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Sheer Exhaustion

I asked Sarah what I should write about today, offering a few tongue-in-cheek suggestions and ending with the title of this post. That one, she replied. She knows where I’m at in life, because both of us are staring the abyss of exhaustion in the face and daring it to come closer.

As a writer, operating under a certain level of fatigue is challenging. In order to be creative, you need to be able to think, or at any rate, organize thoughts coherently on paper (the screen, you know what I mean). And there are days where I sit here at my desk thinking “I can’t brain now. Don’t make me brain.”

Library Dragon

I just want to find a sunbeam and nap with a book nearby.

Necessarily, on days I can’t think, I can’t write. I can, usually, manage to do homework, but that’s not creativity. Art, in a visual sense, is creativity but not as challenging to the tired brain as writing is. I think because of the scope: my art isn’t terribly complicated stuff that will take weeks to complete. A novel is. Maybe that’s what it is. It’s just so overwhelming to try and contain a world in your brain when there is all this other stuff demanding space and telling you that it’s more important.

Even reading becomes a challenge. I mean, look at this. It looks like perfect gobbledygook to me right now: “Whether vertical conduct by a disruptive market entrant, aimed at securing suppliers for a new retail platform, should be condemned as per se illegal under Section 1 of the Sherman Act, rather than analyzed under the rule of reason,” the brief states, with Apple asking the court to “confirm that vertical activity, undertaken for bona fide, potentially pro-competitive purposes, is not transformed into per se illegal conduct merely because it also has been found to facilitate horizontal collusion.”

Oh, wait. That’s not just me. That is gibberish. That’s a company trying to persuade a court that it’s okay for them to fix prices, because they are a NEWB. A newb, they say! And we’re supposed to get mental fatigue from parsing that sentence and give them a pass.

Maybe it’s just my tired brain, but this one hurts to read: an editor telling people why a massively selling book-made-movie is crap. She’s talking about the Martian and assessing why editors would reject it, and… and I got nothing. The gatekeepers are tilting at the giants and calling them windmills now. I mean really, who wants that nasty science cluttering up your story when you couple have more emotional depth? Who wants to read about a cast of characters who share a mission and yet have them be similarly-minded? And above all, who wants to read an exciting story with a competent hero who keeps a stiff upper lip and never gives up? No, editors want navel gazing. The problem is… my brain hurts. Ow.

It could be worse. It could be a book starring… gasp… a bureaucrat. Which can actually work. Sabrina Chase’s Bureau of Substandards makes it work in a very funny fashion. But she breaks all the rules and has competent characters. But in an article which I can’t find, so I’m linking instead to a fisking – and a very good one, better than I have the mental power for – there’s a literary critic who seems to be agitating for a book about an auditor. And no, he doesn’t mean Miles Vorkosigan (there’s a new book out in that series! Squee! Ok, brain, back on track. Seriously, it’s so easy to derail when you’re sleep-deprived. Shiny!), nor does he mean the Gray men of Pratchett’s books. ”

“Recent breakthroughs in neuroscience reveal that our brain is hardwired to respond to story; the pleasure we derive from a tale well told is nature’s way of seducing us into paying attention to it.”

Tale. Well. Told.

Not a mirror. Not message fiction. Tale well gold.

Do we want to see more trans-women secretaries… sorry… executive assistants taking down the bad guys?

Damien, of course, twists this concept into tossing the old muscle-bound hero stereotypes in favor of less traditional heroes, such as… well… you guessed it – minorities, women, bureaucrats, homosexuals, transgendered individuals, logistics officers, and others that aren’t generally portrayed as heroic. Because muscly, violent men are out, and dull, tax auditor-types are in (and it would be great if they were women and gay too!)

Hercules is out. Here comes Pajama Boy!

Forget Superman. Let’s see more HR specialists.

Red Sonja the tax auditor.

What?

No thanks.

Here, read it all… 

I could drivel on, but that last broke my brain, which wants a cookie and a blankie and a nice hot cuppa… something. Oh, and a book. I recommend you check out the Halloween Sale going on this weekend, a lot of good authors and cheap books. Evidently, our brain is hardwired to respond to story. So reading, it’s for science! 

Or because it helps me sleep better.

Halloween Sale and More

(Updated @ 1130 hrs)

It’s the time of ghouls and goblins and things that go bump in the night. Halloween is one of my favorite times of year. To celebrate this year, some of the Mad Genii and friends are taking part in a limited time sale of some of their work. (Be sure to confirm the prices before purchasing. All titles should be on sale but Amazon doesn’t always start sales early in the morning.) Please check back later for additional titles and details. Thanks!

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A Cat Among Dragons
by Alma T. C. Boykin
$1.99
New listing

She wanted to live life on her own terms. Her enemies had other ideas. The galaxy is about to discover just what a cornered cat can do.

They started it. Her father’s people declared her a corrupt half-breed, one unfit to live. Now she’s on the run, fleeing back in time. When she joined an interstellar mercenary company, she did not anticipate becoming the Pet of House Nagali, becoming the student of a mysterious but very well connected Healer and diplomat, and fighting her way into power as the only sentient mammal in the court of a reptilian empire.

This collection of short stories, the first in the Cat Among Dragons series, begins the saga of Rada Ni Drako and her odd assortment of allies. Join the adventure as Rada takes on her father’s people and tries to keep her head, and the rest of her, intact.

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The Kinmar
by David L. Burkhead
On sale for $0.99 October 25-31.

Kreg and Kaila, knights of Aerioch, interrupt their mission to chase down the raiders that destroyed a village. Much to their surprise, the raiders turn out to be Kinmar, the half-man/half-animal remnants of the magical Changeling War. Outnumbered and surrounded, wounded, with only the strange magic of the Knightbond on their side, can they survive, much less ensure that no one ravages the people of Aerioch with impunity?

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Jinxers
by Sabrina Chase
On sale for $0.99 from October 27 through November 2.

Young Jin survives on his own in the streets of Thama, using his wits and climbing skills to find food and shelter. On a bitterly cold night, desperate to avoid freezing, he enters the burned wreckage of a long-abandoned warehouse searching for anything of value. Searching despite the danger—for the warehouse once belonged to jinxers, and no one knows how their magic works…or how long it remains. Jin discovers a beautiful crystal sphere in the ashes—and suddenly finds himself transported to the desert world of Darha.

His foreign appearance immediately brands him an outsider, and he must rely on his Darha friends to conceal him from the mysterious rulers of the local fort. But Jin must face the fort’s dangers—for inside may lie the key to his return to Thama…and the key to his own hidden magic powers.

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Bolg, PI: Away with the fairies
by Dave Freer
On sale for $0.99
New listing

A humorous, satirical noir detective urban fantasy, set in a small city in flyover country, which has an unusually high population of Trolls, werewolves, fairies and a dwarf.

Private Investigator Bolg, a Pictish gentleman who happens to be vertically challenging, a self-proclaimed dwarf and tattooed so heavily he appears blue, finds this restricts him to oddball clients. In this his first case, a wealthy fruitcake who want to dance with the fairies. Most PI’s would do their best to avoid this because they know there are no fairies. Bolg would like to avoid it because he knows the fairies too well, and they’re mean.

Aided by a gargoyle informer and an ancient Celtic wizard, he sets about trying to oblige his client, and keep both of them alive. It’s no sinecure.

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Nocturnal Lives (Boxed Set)
by Amanda S. Green
On sale for 1.99 October 29 – November 2.

This “box set” includes the first three novels in the Nocturnal Lives series.

Nocturnal Origins
Some things can never be forgotten, no matter how hard you try.

Detective Sergeant Mackenzie Santos knows that bitter lesson all too well. The day she died changed her life and her perception of the world forever.It doesn’t matter that everyone, even her doctors, believe a miracle occurred when she awoke in the hospital morgue. Mac knows better. It hadn’t been a miracle, at least not a holy one. As far as she’s concerned, that’s the day the dogs of Hell came for her.

Investigating one of the most horrendous murders in recent Dallas history, Mac also has to break in a new partner and deal with nosy reporters who follow her every move and who publish confidential details of the investigation without a qualm.

Complicating matters even more, Mac learns the truth about her family and herself, a truth that forces her to deal with the monster within, as well as those on the outside.But none of this matters as much as discovering the identity of the murderer before he can kill again.

Nocturnal Serenade
Lt. Mackenzie Santos of the Dallas Police Department learns there are worst things than finding out you come from a long line of shapeshifters. At least that’s what she keeps telling herself. It’s not that she resents suddenly discovering she can turn into a jaguar. Nor is it really the fact that no one warned her what might happen to her one day. Although, come to think of it, her mother does have a lot of explaining to do when – and if – Mac ever talks to her again. No, the real problem is how to keep the existence of shapeshifters hidden from the normals, especially when just one piece of forensic evidence in the hands of the wrong technician could lead to their discovery.

Add in blackmail, a long overdue talk with her grandmother about their heritage and an attack on her mother and Mac’s life is about to get a lot more complicated. What she wouldn’t give for a run-of-the-mill murder to investigate. THAT would be a nice change of pace.

Nocturnal Interlude
Lt. Mackenzie Santos swears she will never take another vacation again as long as she lives. The moment she returns home, two federal agents are there to take her into custody. Then she finds out her partner, Sgt. Patricia Collins, as well as several others are missing. Several of the missing have connections to law enforcement. All are connected to Mac through one important and very secret fact — they are all shapechangers. Has someone finally discovered that the myths and bad Hollywood movies are actually based on fact or is there something else, something more insidious at work?

Mac finds herself in a race against time not only to save her partner and the others but to discover who was behind their disappearances. As she does, she finds herself dealing with Internal Affairs, dirty cops, the Feds and a possible conspiracy within the shapeshifter community that could not only bring their existence to light but cause a civil war between shifters.

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Hunted by Moonlight (Hunter’s Moon)
by Ellie Ferguson
On sale for $0.99 October 29 – November 2.

This boxed set contains the first three novels in the Hunter’s Moon series.

Hunted:

When Meg Finley’s parents died, the authorities classified it as a double suicide. Alone, hurting and suddenly the object of the clan’s alpha’s desire, her life was a nightmare. He didn’t care that she was grieving any more than he cared that she was only fifteen. So she’d run and she’d been running ever since. But now, years later, her luck’s run out. The alpha’s trackers have found her and they’re under orders to bring her back, no matter what. Without warning, Meg finds herself in a game of cat and mouse with the trackers in a downtown Dallas parking garage. She’s learned a lot over the years but, without help, it might not be enough to escape a fate she knows will be worse than death. What she didn’t expect was that help would come from the local clan leader. But would he turn out to be her savior or something else, something much more dangerous?

Hunter’s Duty:

Maggie Thrasher is looking for a man, not to love but to kill. Duty to her pride and loyalty to her family demands it. Joshua Volk has betrayed pride, pack and clan. All he cares about is destroying the old ways and killing anyone, normal or shape-changer, who gets in his way. Jim Kincade is dedicated to two things: upholding the law and protecting the pride from discovery. When Jim is called to the scene of a possible murder, the last thing he expects is to discover the alleged killer is a tracker from another pride. Now he’s faced with a woman who is most definitely more than she appears. Complicating matters even more, there’s something about her that calls to him and his leopard is determined to claim her for his own. Joshua Volk is looking for revenge. Maggie killed one of his own. His vengeance will bring Maggie’s worst nightmares to life. Is the passion between Maggie and Jim enough to defeat Volk’s plans or will Maggie’s determination to fulfill her duty to her pride be the death of them both?

Hunter’s Home:

They say you can never go home. That’s something CJ Reamer has long believed. So, when her father suddenly appears on her doorstep, demanding she return home to Montana to “do her duty”, she has other plans. Montana hasn’t been home for a long time, almost as long as Benjamin Franklin Reamer quit being her father. Dallas is now her home and it’s where her heart is. The only problem is her father doesn’t like taking “no” for an answer.

When her lover and mate is shot and she learns those responsible come from her birth pride and clan, CJ has no choice but to return to the home she left so long ago. At least she won’t be going alone. Clan alphas Matt and Finn Kincade aren’t about to take any risks where their friend is concerned. Nor is her mate, Rafe Walkinghorse, going to let her go without him.

Going home means digging up painful memories and family secrets. But will it also mean death – or worse – for CJ and her friends?

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Bloody Eden (Soldiers of New Eden Book 2)
by T. L. Knighton
On sale for $0.99.

Ten years after a nuclear war forced Jason Calvin to fight his way across Georgia and through a brutal warlord, life has settled down a bit in a town called New Eden. As the town sheriff, Jason keeps the peace.

After saving a family from a horrible fate, that peace becomes threatened when a sadistic military man shows up, claiming the family are fugitives from his draconian justice system and they’re coming back whether anyone in New Eden likes it or not…and maybe some of New Eden’s own as well.

Unfortunately for him, Jason isn’t about to just let something like that go.

“Bloody Eden” is the action packed sequel to the hit novelette “After the Blast”.

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Bad Moon on the Rise (Soldiers of New Eden Book 3)
by T. L. Knighton
On sale for $0.99.

Sheriff Jason Calvin and the people of New Eden have managed to move on from a brutal war with a neighboring town. In the aftermath, a new government rose from the ashes to bring peace to the Tennessee Valley.

Unfortunately, there always seems to be people who have no interest in peace as a group of ruthless thugs with a personal axe to grind kills one of Jason’s closest friends. Now, the sheriff has to deal with meddlesome bureaucrats, a conniving rival, and old enemies in an effort to find the men responsible, plus the small army protecting them, and bring them to justice.

Bad Moon on the Rise continues the story first told in After the Blast and continued in Bloody Eden.

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Vulcan’s Kittens (Children of Myth Book 1)
by Cedar Sanderson
On sale for $0.99 Oct 29th through Nov 3rd

12-year-old Linnea Vulkane is looking forward to a long, lazy summer on Grandpa Heph’s farm, watching newborn kittens grow up and helping out with chores. That all goes out the window the night Mars, god of war, demands her grandfather abandon her and return to Olympus for the brewing war.

Now Old Vulcan is racing around the world and across higher planes with Sehkmet to gather allies, leaving Linn and an old immortal friend to protect the farm and the very special litter. But even the best wards won’t last forever, and when the farm goes up in flames, she is on the run with a daypack, a strange horse, a sword, and an armful of kittens. Linn needs to grow up fast and master her powers, before the war finds the unlikely refugees…

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Empire of the One (Wine of the Gods Book 14)
by Pam Uphoff
On sale for $0.99 through the Halloween weekend.

Cross-dimensional espionage!

Earth and the Empire of the One have clashed twice. Once the Empire lost a colony to Earth. The second time was a draw, with neither side gaining control of a mineral rich world with a medieval level society.

Alert for intruders from Earth, the Empire’s agents are about to be blindsided by spies from that medieval world–and magic.

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Fenrir Reborn: A Sindri Modulf Novella (Architects of Lore Book 2)
by Anita C. Young
Free October 29 – November 2.

Sindri Modulf has been tested many times throughout his long life, but for every feat he has faced, he has artfully dodged countless more with easy humour and a deadly axe. Those well-honed abilities will prove useless when he is faced with one of the greatest challenges of his life; he must bring back a grief-stricken Seer from the edge of catatonia. Unwilling to let the mind of the most powerful woman in 1000 years be ravaged by Empaths and Telepaths, Sindri does something he hasn’t done for centuries: bare his soul.

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Just added:

Neighborhood Bark-B-Q (Spooky-hoods Book 2)
by Dan Hoyt
Free Promotion for Halloween

A humorous fantasy short story by SF/F author and anthologist Daniel M. Hoyt.

Looking for a new home, Mr. Wolff? We have the perfect place for you: Moonlit Thicket, where all of your neighbors understand your special needs. Once you’re accepted, you’re pretty much part of the family, so don’t be shy! Oh? You work at Loopy’s? Great! You’ll fit right in here. And don’t forget the free haircuts!

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ConVent (The Vampire Con Series Book 1)
by Kate Paulk
On sale for $2.99. Marked down from $4.99

A vampire, a werewolf, an undercover angel and his succubus squeeze. Whoever picked this team to save the world wasn’t thinking of sending the very best. But then, since this particular threat to the universe and everything good is being staged in science fiction conventions, amid people in costume, misfits and creative geniuses, any convetional hero would have stood out. Now Jim, the vampire, and his unlikely sidekicks have to beat the clock to find out who’s sacrificing con goers before all hell breaks loose — literally.

ConVent is proof that Kate Paulk’s brain works in wonderfully mysterious ways. A sarcastic vampire, his werewolf best buddy, an undercover angel and his succubus squeeze. The “Save the world” department really messed it up this time.

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The Blood like Wine
by Sarah A. Hoyt
Free

Sylvie would do anything not to be poor ever again. Unfortunately, at the time of the French revolution, wealth might cost her her life, or at least her soul.

A short story.

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Something Worse Hereafter
by Sarah A. Hoyt
Free

Dying is easy. It’s staying alive afterwards that is difficult. Catrina finds herself in hell, fighting demons for her sustenance and only solving the riddle of her half-remembered past existence will allow her to escape.

A Short Story.

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Ratskiller (King of Cats)
by Robert A. Hoyt
Free

… Long before the bird reared its ugly beak, there was beer. And lots of it.

In the humble world of alley cats, Tom has everything he needs: interesting enemies, a long list of girl cats who’d like to scratch his eyes out, and enough beer to make sure his repressed memories and his mysterious destiny stay repressed.

Until Wild Rat microbrewery shuts down.

To restore his favorite beer to its former glory, Tom will have to fight prissy bureaucrats, streetwise alley cats, and Broxton’s most barbaric rats. And behind it all, an evil so great that even Broxton’s most hardened rodents dare not squeak of it.

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And now for the more — with an apology because WordPress is being its usual uncooperative self and the plug-in needed to make this work the way it is supposed to is refusing to install properly. Anyway. . . .

There is a new podcast out there. It’s name says it all for those who have followed the Sad Puppies for any length of time — The #WrongFun Podcast. Among those who have appeared on it so far are our own Mad Genii Sarah, Cedar and Kate. You can find the podcast here. (I promise as soon as I can get the plugin working properly to have the podcasts onboard here.) In the meantime, go take a look at the WrongFun site.

Nano Nono

In keeping with the Nanowrimo theme this week, I’m going to ramble on for a while about it, too. Of course, my perspective is a tad… different, not least because I don’t do Nano, and will probably never do it.

Why not?

Mostly because the main purpose of Nano is something I’m already doing – trying to sneak in writing whenever I can (let’s not mention the large quantities of failing caused by narcolepsy, diabetes, kitten, full time job, and the various interactions between all these factors that leave me with rather less focusable time than I’d like).

Outside all the publicity and enthusiasm and the tendency of people to work harder at something when they have a commitment (particularly one made publicly) what I see as the basic point of Nano is that if you can manage to write a modest amount every day, it adds up remarkably quickly. Fifteen hundred words a day over thirty days works out to 45 k words – not quite a novel, but a solid kind of start on one.

The basic guidelines don’t change:

  • Park butt in chair, fingers on keyboard, and write.
  • Resist the temptation to fix, edit, or throw it away.
  • Resist the temptation to reread yesterday’s wordage before you start.
  • Minimize distractions (or ignore them).
  • It doesn’t have to be great. It does have to be finished (especially when you’re looking at a raw first draft – although if we’re talking the first half of a raw first draft, you keep going until it is finished).

That’s all there is to Nano and writing in general.

Of course, writing something someone else is going to want to pay money for is a different beast, but mostly in terms of polish and cleanup (we won’t go into the partly-finished novel I have where I need several days of focused concentration to sort out the timelines because it’s so far off the rails it left left field behind a long way back and has tied itself into knots that I have to tease out before I can go forward. This is what happens when a pantser writes in disjointed bits and pieces – also known as gets interrupted by life being a major bitch). How you handle that part is a personal thing, but I find I need to be able to concentrate and focus much more in edit-mode than in writing mode.

The other side of this is the ten-thousand hour theory: you don’t get seriously good at anything until you’ve invested around 10k hours in it (or, for writers, you can go with the alternative of a million bad words before you get to the good ones. That works out at about… a hundred words per hour, which really is pretty low. I usually get anything from five hundred per hour up, more – way more – if things are really going well. I think my record is in the order of 30k in a day.

In any case, the point of Nano is both to practice writing by doing it – actually writing something – which has the combined effects of building a writing habit (first hit is free, after that you have to steal time), getting your brain accustomed to the idea that butt in chair plus fingers on keyboard plus word processing open equals shut down the internal censor and let the wordage flow (you can clean up any overflow later), and bringing you closer to the point where you’ll be really good at it. Or if you’re already really good at it, it will help you stay that way and get better.

Unless, of course, you’re me and you know damn well that committing to something like this will just add stress and shut you down. Then you don’t Nano. Instead you commit yourself to writing something – anything – every day until you’re in a better place where you can do a Nano.

Swallowing A Fly — #2 How to plot

Yeah, I know, I changed the title.  You’ll have to deal.  Also, unlike my friends I’m not blogging about Nano because I’m a rebel that way.

So I said you have to start the novel with a character who has a problem, and preferably that problem has to be one that has a concrete solution.  I.e., don’t have your character wish for world peace, unless she’s a beauty pageant contestant.  There is nothing your character can actually do on her own to bring about world peace.  (Unless she has some weird superpower…)

Her goal has to be something more concrete if still challenging, like say rescuing her little brother from fairyland, getting a date to the prom, or drinking all the coffee.  (NO, wait, that’s MY goal.)

Many novels start with a bang, and then sort of straggle into the weeds of “Why am I reading this, again?”  (This is when I skip to the end, read the last page and put it away before they infect me with meandering.)  The problem with most, if not all, beginner novels, is that sometime in the middle of the story, I find myself wondering why in heck I’m bothering.

That’s because the author has lost the plot.

To not lose the plot, I invite you to contemplate the little old lady who swallowed a fly.

She swallowed the spider to catch the fly, she swallowed a bird to catch the spider, she swallowed a cat to catch the bird etc.  Note that starting with the original problem (It might help to know that in regency slang at least to swallow a spider was to go deep into debt you can’t escape) she swallows each animal to catch the last — i.e. to try to solve her problem.  And each time her problem gets worse.

Your character, in the same way, starting with a problem on which they act in what has to be a somewhat rational manner (unless it’s one of my refinishing mysteries) and where the result backfires horribly, must engage in attempting ever bigger solutions (to bigger problems) and having them blow up even bigger.

Of course, unless you’re writing a nihilistic story, at some point the series of ever larger failed solutions must end, and there must be a beginning of actually improving things.

There are two ways to do this, one being gradual, by having some of the solutions that backfire give hope or point the way to the solution.  (Foreshadowing, m’dear, foreshadowing.  I always forget it when I’m tired/sick.)  The other is abrupt.  For the abrupt one you need a plausible way to turn your character around.  Something disastrous must happen that makes the woman stop swallowing ever larger animals and start thinking.  Say, the fly escapes.  Or perhaps one of the animals makes so much noise she can’t sleep at night.  Anyway, there must be some sort of crisis that makes her wonder why she’s chasing down and swallowing animals even though this hasn’t worked in the past.  This will lead to her giving up all hope of solving her problem — aka, the black moment — and then, in what I call the “mirror moment” if it’s a character based novel (one in which the character is at least partly responsible for the situation.  Situations of world destruction are a little different) the character takes a really long look at him/herself and realizes that because of some innate characteristic, he/she has been doing it all wrong.  And then he/she changes the approach and swallows a tether (metaphorically speaking) to pull all the animals out.

In such a situation, whatever they swallow next is the crisis and when the villain (of course there is a villain.  Are you writing litcherary tovarish?  Then you don’t need my advice) who first forced them to swallow the fly in order to try to solve the problem caused by the villain finds out they’re changing strategy, he’ll confront them.  And so, the main character will have to fight the villain, and this will be the climax.

However the climax should flow directly from your initial problem.  There is no “I am in the middle of the book, and I have half to go, I’ll have the character do random things.”  The old woman doesn’t swallow some flowers to beautify the place and a freight train just to make it easier for the animals to travel.  No.  She swallows a bird to catch the spider and a cat to catch the bird and a dog to catch the cat.

This means that though the premise is nonsensical, if you grant the original premise that a person can swallow a bunch of large animals and stay alive and that the animals too stay alive inside her, then you have a logical chain of events.

Now, go you and chain your plot likewise.

Next week A plot in search of a theme.

To Nano or not to Nano

In case you haven’t figured it out by the last three MGC posts, NaNoWriMo is almost upon us. For the uninitiated, NaNoWriMo is National Novel Writing Month. It is the bane and the boon of many writers. We look forward to it with excitement and, at the same time, more than a little fear. Excitement because of the challenge and fear because how in the world are we going to write a complete novel in a month?

True confession time. I’ve done NaNo several times before but only once “officially”. By that I mean that I’ve only signed up on the national site once. Part of the reason is I’m not much of a joiner. Part was because I did NaNo for myself and not anyone else. So why join a national site? Shrug. That’s my warped sense of reasoning there.

Anyway, at our last critique group meeting, I asked the other members who would be taking part. Two instantly shot their hands up in the air. They first took part last year and discovered the goal of writing 50,000 words over the length of a month helped motivate them into putting butt in chair and words on the page. The others looked at me with varying degrees of non-comprehension to fear. So, after explaining exactly what NaNo is, I started trying to address the fear.

And this is where I deviate from the traditional goals of NaNo.

When you tell someone that they have to set a goal of 50,000 words over 30 days, eyes will glaze, complexions will pale and breathing becomes shallow. You can smell the fear in the air followed almost instantly by denial. There is no way they can write that much. They have jobs and families and real life and and and. . . .

So I go straight to the heart of NaNo, at least to me — committing to do something for the month. Not every writer writes novels. They write short stories or flash fiction. The thought of having to write long works turns their stomachs and they dig their heels in. Then there are the writers who agonize over every word. A good day for them is getting a couple hundred words down on paper. Then you have the writers who edit as they go. How in the world are they supposed to write an entire novel — and edit it — in 30 days?

So here’s my approach. You set a goal. Preferably, you accept the full 50k word challenge but, if that blows your mind to such an extent that you shut down, you set something more realistic — and you work toward meeting it. You don’t beat yourself up if you fall short on your daily goal. The final goal at the end of the month is what you have to keep your eye on. Sit butt in chair and write. Plain and simple. Write.

Something else you have to keep in mind is that you don’t have time to edit when you are doing NaNo — at least most of us don’t. So you have to turn off the internal editor and just trust yourself. Editing will come after you finish the challenge. Since 50K words is a very bare bones novel for most of us, we’d be going back anyway to fill in the blanks and flesh out the details.

What I have found NaNo does best is teach writers to trust themselves to write. It might drive plotters crazy because you don’t have time to site down and do a detailed outline — much less fight your characters to keep them sticking to your outline. For pantsers, it is an exercise in letting yourself go but with the knowledge that it needs to make enough sense at the end of the month that you can edit it into a workable manuscript.

Another way I deviate a little from the original goal of NaNo is that I don’t insist on folks starting a brand new piece for the challenge. As a working writer, if I were to put aside a current project for a month just for the sake of NaNo, I’d go crazy. The project I stopped working on would continue to demand attention. Worse, by the time I went back to it, there is the possibility that I will have lost the voice. That is a very bad thing — who wants a shapeshifting kick ass heroine who suddenly sounds like a ditzy airhead?

So here’s my question: how many of you are taking part in NaNo and how are you approaching it? Are you joining one of the local support groups and taking part in their activities or are you sticking to the lone wolf school of writing? Are you starting a new project or working on a current one? Or do you think NaNo is the biggest joke ever played on writers? (I’m sort of leaning toward the latter, at least part of the time, and I have this vision of a couple of guys sitting around laughing at all the writers they’ve pulled this con on.)

One last thing, a group of MGC regulars — bloggers and commenters alike — have put together a Halloween Sale for some of their work. You can find a full list of the works on sale over at my personal blog. Please wander over and take a look. Thanks!

Skating away

Skating Away
On the thin ice of the new day
(track 11 Warchild, Jethro Tull)

On Sunday afternoon I found myself – for my sins — on a hot tin roof. No, I wasn’t trying to get closer to heaven either with delusions that altitude or landing on my head would help. Not being very good at saying no, and feeling sorry for folk who don’t really need my help are sins of a sort too.

Australia is the country of very expensive labor, and ‘elf-an’-safety adding time, inconvenience and a huge amount of cost to anything involving being more than one step from earth. On the island ‘town’ piped water is unfit to drink (and most of us don’t have even that). So drinking water is rainwater, and everyone has big tanks.

Keeping gutters clear is thus very important. Getting someone in to do it, considering the labor and ‘elf-an’-safety is difficult and expensive. So most folk do it themselves, or if they’re getting on, either face the cost, and trying to find someone (no one does it as a job, no one wants to, because it’s bureaucratic nightmare), or ask a sucker. I think I have that tattooed on my forehead.

Now, I’ve been a rock-climber for more than 40 years and I’m still alive, which means I’m quite good at two things – high places, and assessing risk. So: I tend to get up on the roof and do the job in 10 minutes. I’m not being paid, so the bureaucrats as yet have no ground for fainting and shrieking.

In the case of this particular roof, the owners had fallen victim to that terrible ailment, excessive gardening, including fishponds and rockeries. And objet d’art, another dangerous thing. Both of these are awful when they occupy the place where, otherwise, one might put a ladder. They also make for lumpy and/or wet (and worse, with goldfish) places to fall to.

Now roofs come in steep and rope, or flat/gentle and stand… Steep mostly don’t need much cleaning, and gentle slopes are easy to walk and clean…

This was one of those awkward roofs, too steep for comfort, far too steep to walk, hard to safety-line effectively… but not so steep it couldn’t be done reasonably safely. It just needed something different… slightly sweaty-damp hands and feet, caution and slow spider-movements. It’s a balancing act between friction and gravity and just damp monkey monkey paws are slightly ‘stickier’ than dry ones. It’s why Fluff, the Galago in Rats, Bats and Vats (“Rats, Bats and Vats Series” Book 1) practice urine washing of his paws. I decided to give that a miss this time.

So there I was, gardening the gutters singing ‘Skating Away’. Yes, I usually sing when climbing things. Firstly, I’m out of reach of those who might want to shut me up, and secondly cliffs are popular with birds, and my singing prevents unexpected face-to-beak meetings. When I stop singing it’s hard, I’m in trouble or both. The gutters got done and the neighbors might well stop complaining about my singing one day.

Afterwards, I got to thinking about Monday’s post. The song and roof-task seemed very appropriate to NaNoMoWriMo. (see Cedar and Brad’s posts about it).

The roof, like NaNoMoWriMo, took commitment. It is much easier if you’ve done it before. It’s also a long-ish task, which you can make into a nightmare – or you can keep cool and do it. You can fail, fall and actually get hurt (yes, as a writer. Writing is about confidence, about trusting yourself. So is climbing. And a writer’s life is full of rockeries, goldfish ponds and knobbly Objet d’art all waiting eagerly for a misstep).

The key is to try to land well… and to get back on that roof as fast as possible. It’s just like horse-riding (well, falling off the horse) and other foolish pastimes. Trust me on this, I am an EXPERT at failing at the foolish pastimes I will keep trying… and failing at, and getting back on straight away and trying again. If you fall behind with NaNoMoWriMo – you cannot afford not get on and push story. Even if you don’t finish inside the cut-off, you need to finish the race. It’s that or give up and make it much harder next time.

Like the roof… it’s too steep to walk fast, and in fact, trying to do it fast, to rush it… just doesn’t work. It’s a 30 day project. Slow and solid wins the day (and then gets picked up by an eagle and dropped on a rock – so if you do get picked up by the eagle (suddenly sell your NaNoMoWriMo book), be sure to bite the eagle (or the publisher) on the nadgers and hold tight (ensure you have a contract that will hurt them as much as you, if they drop you) Seriously, different people write in different ways, and none of them are ‘right’ – but for me keeping just above wordcount required works better than sudden rushes.

Too slow has the opposite problem. You’ll sweat off, and get nowhere. If you’re stuck, move on. You can always come fill that gap later. You can’t catch up a week’s or three’s worth of words, later.

Secondly, you’re writing for readers. That means you have to communicate, and they have to follow the story… which means, just like me reaching a hand making sure the next bit of roof is not too dusty or slippery, that you have to prepare the ground. Most NaNoMoWriMo stories fall at this hurdle. The writers are so busy chasing the words they don’t prepare the reader. They don’t foreshadow so that events and actions seem natural (even when they come out of left of field). If you don’t do this naturally – know where your story is going, and if young Freddie is going to be stranded on a desert island mention his Boy Scout background long before and in other contexts, it will not read well. Trust me. I’ve done this wrong myself. If need be, go back and insert it.

Thirdly – you are writing at pace. If you’re new to this, remember you have to carry your reader with you. There’s no point in racing around the roof and not doing the gutters. The easiest way – as with the gutters — is to start at the low point and work your way up, linearly. Linear stories, once which follow a simple sequence of events in one place, with one group of characters are easier to write, and easier to follow. Flashbacks are very useful, but they are harder to do well, and harder to orchestrate if you are pushing for words.

Fourthly, if you can’t sing, talk. Dialogue reads well, is a natural and easy form of communication, and is a great way of showing characters and story. And yes, it is quite wordy.

Finally: November – LIVE in your story. Don’t think about writing or politics or cuddling cousin Clara. There really isn’t a lot of room for anything else in your focus (start not thinking about the roof, and you’re going slip off it, start not thinking about the book and you’re fall off and NaNoMo too.) When you’re not actually writing, be thinking it.

“Well, do you ever get the feeling, that the story’s too damn real
And in the present tense
Or that everybody’s on the stage and it seems like you’re the only
Person sitting in the audience”

I do. I write a lot like that.

The point of NaNoWriMo: an opinion

I was asked, “How would you address a middleschool creative writing class, on the eve of NaNoWriMo?

For those who have been living in an internet-free zone for the past six years, National Novel Writing Month is the yearly November festival of “Getteth Thine Butteth In Thine Chaireth, And Typeth.”

This is my response:

Everyone who is writing the books and stories you like to read, was once sitting where you are now. They had the notion of a spark of a gleam of a desire to write. They were reading their books and stories that they enjoyed, and wondering, “Could I do this too? Could I write something that captivates people, the way I am being captivated?”

Over the past few years you’ve heard about a thing called NaNoWriMo. The basic idea is to write a whole book in one month; or at least as much of a whole book as you can, in one month. I want to suggest to you the idea that NaNoWriMo is merely an exercise, to teach you what it’s like for professional writers who have to consistently write on a regular basis. Could be every day. Could be five days a week. Could be three times a week, for ten hours at a time. Whatever. The point is, writing doesn’t happen by itself. And good writing, the kind of storytelling that can capture somebody’s imagination the way your imaginations have been captured by your favorite authors, is typically the product of many years of practice.

Yes, there it is, the dreaded word: practice. You all hate practice. I know you do, because my daughter is your age and she hates practice. She’s had to practice on a music instrument since she was seven years old. And she hates it every time. Practice is boring. Practice feels like drudgery. Even if it’s a sport like basketball or softball, practice doesn’t have the same excitement as an actual game. But just like sports, you can’t play well at game-time unless you put in the hours to condition your body, your reflexes, and your mind to perform when the team needs you to perform.

And it’s precisely the same with writing. You will not sit down, and from a cold start, type out the entirety of a good novel. You will not sit down, and from a cold start, type out the entirety of even a bad novel. If you’re going to do NaNoWriMo, think of yourself engaging in a relay race. Your objective is not to run the entire distance in one instance. You take the baton, run a certain distance, then let go of the baton . . . and pick it up again the next day, or the day after next, and go another distance, then let the baton go . . . and pick it up again still further in the future, and so on, and so forth. And each time you go a distance, you are learning a little bit more about how to tell a story.

Because merely stringing sentences, or a sequence of fictional events, together into a chapter or a series of chapters, is not necessarily storytelling. Storytelling requires a reflexive ability to create in the reader’s mind an urgency, a desire, a need to keep going. To turn the page. To find out what happens next. Most writers, even the very talented ones, do not possess that reflexive ability when they start out. It doesn’t matter what age they are. That reflexive ability has almost always been honed, over hundreds of thousands or even millions of words of practice. (Yup, the dreaded word, again!)

Morever, practice doesn’t end, just because you’ve managed to publish. Especially in this day and age, when independent self-publishing is a viable reality. Each book, each story, you are practicing and (hopefully) refining your storytelling reflexes. So that your first published book and your tenth published book ought to (theoretically) reflect that improved prowess.

But the point here, now, is to simply begin at the beginning. Understand the work it takes. Yes, work. Up until now, your writing may have been a hobby, or something that seemed fun. But the truth is, every person writing the books you love and adore, has taught him or herself how to work. How to make deadlines. How to professionally create and keep a schedule. How to sit down at the computer (in the old days it was a typewriter!) and make yourself create, even when you don’t feel like it. Just like you practice basketball or softball when you don’t feel like it. Or you practice violin, oboe, clarinet, or guitar when you don’t feel like it. And in the case of professional authors, they don’t have their parents minding their business for them. A professional author is his or her own taskmaster. Can you imagine that? Getting up in the morning, wanting to do anything other than write, but you get your breakfast and you put on some quiet music, have a meal, prepare your mind, then go to your desk and sit down and make yourself type for one or two or five hours? And each hour is like pulling teeth?

That is what it means to be a professional, and that is part of what NaNoWriMo is meant to help you learn.

And if you discover, at the end of it, that there was simply no joy in the project — that you felt no satisfaction for your effort — perhaps writing stories is not for you. And that is just fine! You are young, and the world is wide, and there are a thousand and one things you could be doing. Not every person is meant to be an author, just as not every person is meant to be a professional baseball player, or a lawyer, or a construction engineer, or a housing contractor. The way you find out what might be your best-fitted occupation, is to try things out. NaNoWriMo is a great time to try this out: to try being a storyteller. And if the story you have at the end isn’t complete, or it seems like it’s stupid, or it doesn’t work, but you still had fun? Excellent. No problem. You might be on to something. Being a storyteller just might be for you. If you feel the joy of creation, regardless of how it turns out at the end of the month, and you want more . . . this might be your calling. Perhaps one of several different callings?

Being a renaissance soul is not a bad thing.

Write Me

As the month of NaNoWriMo looms in the near future, I thought I would take a moment to reflect on the one time I did it – and won – why I don’t do it every year, and what I’d suggest to those who want to succeed with it.

Here’s the thing: you can NoWri every day. Novel writing need not be packed into a month a year. However, for some of us, the sheer challenge of the thing is a great way to kick start the project at hand into action, or to complete something you started and haven’t been able to finish, or simply as a social event where for a while, writing is socially acceptable and even laudable.

The year that I did NaNo, at the request of my eldest daughter, I was working full time in an office, and I used my lunch break for a lot of the writing. I could fit about a thousand words, fingers flying madly over the keyboard of my decrepit laptop, into that hour. The rest of my two thousand daily word goal was done late at night, when the kids were in their beds. I didn’t stop to edit, or overthink what I was writing, I just wrote.

In the end, I had a manuscript that was longer than anything I’d ever written, and one that was very close to completion. Sure, it’s a YA novel so it didn’t need to be 100K words long, but for me it was enough to call it a novel. That broke me of the habit of saying “I can only write short stuff.”

I can still – and do, on occasion, like the flash fiction piece I put on my blog this week – write the short stuff. But as an independent publisher, the short stuff isn’t where the money is. And this is why you should make every day NoWri day. If you want to be successful in this business, you need to have quantity. Quality comes with time, and practice, and not writing is not practicing.

Personally, I haven’t done a NaNoWriMo since Vulcan’s Kittens simply because I started school the year after. I haven’t had the brainpower to write, and do school, and work, and… all the other stuff that is a vital part of life. Which hasn’t stopped me from writing at other times of the year. If the schedule for NaNo doesn’t work for you, do NOT let it stop you from writing. If all you can manage is a few hundred words a week, keep at it. You’ll get there in time, as the hare said to the tortoise.

For me, right now, fitting a few weeks of writing like a madwoman (current personal best was 10K words in a day. My arms were numb, but it was totally worth it) in between semesters seems to be working best. I simply haven’t time or brainpower to spare from homework in school. I keep thinking that will change, but if anything as I enter my Senior year, it’s worse. Like most of you, I have a family that would like some of my time, too.

I am blessed, however, with a family that (mostly) understands what I’m doing. I had a lovely moment yesterday where my son was telling me that he was reading Vulcan’s Kittens (he wasn’t old enough to read when it came out. Good heavens how time flies!). He wanted to know if I plan a third book in the series, and when I assured him I did, he lit up and told me what he wanted to see in that book. So now I have notes, and my marching orders… Then, he asked me “can you send me that book? The man, the dog, and the spaceship?”

“Sure honey, who wrote that… Oh. You mean you want my book?”

Yes, he did, and I was thrilled, and sorry to have to tell him it’s not finished yet. Maybe I do need to do NaNo this year!

It’s these moments that keep us all writing. Writing sucks, sometimes, and it’s hard, and there are much more important things we could be doing, like washing the houseplants or dusting the bookshelves. Rotating the cat (but not on a spit!) or… But then you take the dog for a long walk, and this character waltzes into your head, sits down, leans forward with that intent look on their face…

“Write me. Write me, or I will haunt your every waking moment and wake you up in the night. Write me…”

Vulcans Kittens

Post Delayed on Account of Toddler

Hey, all you serial killers (and batch: don’t want to discriminate). Wee Dave decided two hours before his usual wake-up time was an excellent time to rouse himself from slumber (much like Dread Cthulhu, ftagn) and make a hash of my writing time. The Creature is sated (for now: souls digest quickly, though not easily) but the rest of the morning requirements bay sharply at the doors of the mind. I’ve got a chunk of post, but certain thoughts are proving … recalcitrant. I’d use whiskey to beat them into submission, but I understand that’s frowned upon by certain company. Converse amongst yourselves, for the nonce. When you hear the phrase “character driven” applied to writing, what does that mean to you? What should it mean? I shall return, anon…

Why Do We Do This To Ourselves?

 

When you take dictation from the voices in your head, it’s easy to forget that not everything works the way those voices tell you. This might have a little something to do with the way so many writers fall for smooth-talking political hackery (along with the issues that often come along with the whole negotiated relationship with the real world thing) that promises to make things better for everyone.

Hell, despite years of trying to strangle the little monster, I still have a strong idealistic streak that pops up at the most inopportune moments (I’m sure as hell not in SP4 for my benefit. Actually, I should probably admit that I spoke up because I have this horrible tendency to see something that needs to be done and get in there and do it. Then wonder why everyone is pissed off at me for upsetting the status quo. No, not at all idealistic there).

Then of course we writers have this tendency to repeatedly push our own buttons and wind ourselves up into tight little balls of self-perpetuating angst. I’m not going to list examples of when I do it because it’s too damn depressingly long a list, and I’ve seen plenty of other writers do the same thing to themselves. I actually kind of have Sarah’s permission to say that she’s one of them and she’s winding herself up right now and probably somewhere between depression-crash and vibrating with worry over something that probably won’t happen.

Why do we do this to ourselves? Apart from the voices in our head telling us all the interesting stuff that usually just happens to fit nicely into our beliefs (but not always, and sometimes we can’t tell that what we’re hearing inside our skulls doesn’t match what we think we know – compare some of the themes of Harry Potter books 5 through 7 with some of J. K. Rowling’s comments, for instance. I can guarantee that I’ve found a ton of “hey, you! You with the fingers! Listen up before you drive us all off a bloody cliff!” messages when I reread my older stuff. It’s got to be older material because anything too recent I read what I think should be there instead of what actually is there.)

There is a simple answer, of course. And unlike most simple answers, this one is actually more or less correct: we do this to ourselves because we’re human. Being writers, we tend to ramp up the neurotic/creative side of the human spectrum, often to the kind of levels that aren’t normally seen in the wild without something else being severely damped (and being writers, what gets damped tends to be contact with the world outside our skulls, since it’s usually boring and unfulfilling compared to the ones on the inside, as it were). We’re not the only people who do it – who hasn’t heard of or met the co-worker with the… interesting beliefs, or the person who’s so open minded absolutely anything can take up residence in there? We just tend to do it as a career choice.

On the slightly more serious side, one of the reasons this sort of things happen is that when you pair a ridiculously powerful pattern-recognition engine (namely the human brain) with random or uncontrollable events (life in general), you get superstition in all its flavors, complete with the lucky underwear that’s become more hole than fabric but can’t be disposed of because you’ve got to be wearing it when you take an exam or you’ll fail. Or the self-perpetuating belief that you can’t write unless you wrestle three sharks before you start (and win, presumably, since I imagine it would be kind of difficult to write anything from inside a shark).

Or the idea that in order to be worthy you have to be a literary writer – that one is a bit like the self-esteem canard in that it gets cause and effect precisely backwards (for the confused: people with high self-esteem tend to do better in life. They have high self-esteem because they work for what they achieve. Handing people ‘achievements’ in order to boost their self-esteem causes an immense amount of damage, but try telling that to the people who run the schools these days): literature is nothing more than something that speaks to a lot of people over a lengthy time frame. If it’s still popular fifty years after first publication, it’s got a good chance of being literature.

I could go on, but I’m sure everyone here can figure out the principle. After all, most of us have managed to stay on at least civil terms with the world outside our skulls.