The reasons for this blog: 1. To provide basic author information for students, teachers, librarians, etc. (Please see sidebar) 2. I think out loud a lot as I work through writing projects, and I'm trying to dump most of those thoughts here rather than on my friends.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

off to ALA

No writing today. There will be no writing tomorrow (Thursday), either. Nor on Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday or Tuesday. I doubt there will be any on Wednesday, but who knows.

I will be off doing The Author Thing. Which has exactly nothing to do with planting my butt in my chair and working through writing problems.

There will be laundry on Wednesday. That is a given.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

anime movie

No writing today.

Last night I caught the very end of a um, movie, I guess, that I found very interesting. It was a Japanese anime thing, sort of, and because it ended so suddenly, I thought it was part of a series. Nope. It just ended. But the whole thing was in a different animation style from the other anime you see nowadays--very washed out and bare-bones (I thought something was wrong with my TV at first)--which caught my eye because it had to be a deliberate choice, not just cheapness like in American cartoons. And the structures and clothes were Heian era, which is also not usual, as far as I know.

I checked the internet, and this movie, Kai Doh Maru (or Kaidohmaru) is generally disliked, it seems. It doesn't show the backstory the viewer needs to understand what's going on; the washed-out appearance doesn't hold our attention (or direct our eye); and the characters themselves don't explain much about what their relationships are. Not to mention it ends so abruptly it's even more confusing--to Americans, anyway. But the thing that's interesting to me is that much of this is probably a deliberate choice. The filmmakers chose the washed-out look to reflect the artwork of the era, and in Heian Japan, people didn't refer to relationships directly. They didn't even use names, generally. Also, I saw it pointed out that the story is meant to drive home the idea that you can't fight your fate (thus the abrupt downer of an ending). So the question to me is, how much of this is artistic mistake, and how much is artistic, too-bad-if-you-don't-get-it choice? I want to see the whole thing now.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Ms is off to agent. Right now I still see those two big trouble spots; I chipped away at the next-to-last bit, getting it into better shape--but it's going to take more time and work to nail it down.

The other trouble spot, the scene with the big tragedy that doesn't stop the flow of the book--well, that's a problem. A huge problem. In real life, if something terrible happens while you're in great danger, you either give up and die, or you keep moving. This guy keeps moving. But it's not working, the way I have it. It's not believable. You read it and you're like, WTF? It reads like half the words fell out and are missing, all having to with the character dealing with his tragedy and (as a writer friend says) processing it. If he doesn't process it, the reader can't. But I swear, there ain't a lot of time for him to do so. He's got bad guys after him.

It's going to require a lot of thought. But I tell you, I'm going to lie down and die if it turns out to not be fixable. It must be fixable. It has to be.

I probably won't have any writing time from now till I get back from Anaheim. Thinking time, maybe--but no writing time.

You know, sometimes white space gives the reader processing time, and that makes it look like the character has had it, too. I don't think that will work here--more is probably required--but it's something to think about. Even if a chapter break or a page break doesn't help ease the situation, it might help me to see what I need to do more clearly. It might help me isolate the character's reactions.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

a little bit of business talk in here, sorry

Did a readthrough of the second half yesterday. I see three trouble spots.

1. A chapter ending has to be fixed. I'm trying to cram in a metaphor just because I like it, and it's not working to the point of embarrassment. This should be an easy fix.

2. One scene/chapter isn't quite working. The reason it's not working is that it's a pivotal scene where the MC has been hit by a huge tragedy--but by the end of the chapter, he has to be back on track in the story, moving on as he was before. Now, this happens in real life--where the choice is to keep moving or die--but making it believable in a book, and making it to where the reader can follow it, is another matter entirely. I'm guessing I'll probably just do the best I can with it and leave it at that for now. A writer friend suggests stopping and having a chapter where the MC absorbs what has happened, and that's something I'm likely to consider in more depth later.

3. The next-to-last chapter (I guess this is called the denouement? But there's a very last chapter that's sort of a denouement-a-few-months-later, so who knows what the right word is) isn't working either. It is...glib. Yes, glib. I'm thinking that's because it's so new that I haven't had time to go over a million times like I have some of the other chapters, plus it's got a similar problem to #2 above, in that there are quick changes of emotion and mood. And--I think this is the biggie--there are a bunch of characters in the scene, all of whom have emotions and mindsets that have to be painted clearly, and which we have to see changing in the course of the chapter. Let's see--one, two, three, four characters at least, three of whom are completely new to the reader. Then there's the MC, and a bunch of spear-carriers. No wonder it's glib.

This last one is something that really requires a lot of time to fix--rereading and rewriting in context and out of it, over days, weeks, months. But I'm just going to patch it as best I can for now, and let it go. And I'm not going to do that very last tying-it-up chapter right now, because it'll take me forever. The reason I'm doing all this is business: I'm going to see my agent in Anaheim and I would like him to have skimmed what I have, so that he can have a good idea of what the whole looks like, and we can discuss in person. I know that normally it's a bad (very bad) idea to show stuff early (or incomplete) to anybody on the business side. More bad things than good can come of it: the business-type may not "get" it and (depending on who it is) advise you to stop working on it, or reject it outright before it's done. Plus, they've got a lot to do, no matter who they are, and it's just plain freakin' rude to take up their time with stuff they can't do anything with because it's not ready. Much better, I say, to take up your writer friends' time, and to let them take up your time in return. Also, occasionally the business-types love what you have and want to see the whole thing, which as often as not makes you send in something that sucks. It's hard for a writer not to feel that if a business-type loved a piece of it, they'll love it all. But I'm telling you, most of the time they don't, because it sucks, and that's because you rushed it, thinking it was better than it was.

Anyway. I don't want to burn any bridges by showing this before it's ready, but I think it will be okay if I make it clear that this is for discussion purposes only. I hope it will, anyway.

So today: type in changes I noted yesterday, and I really, really want to try to do a full readthrough. This is a pipe dream, I know, because readthroughs take me hours upon hours. But I still have a fool's hope that I can manage it. Sigh.

And so to work.

Friday, June 20, 2008

No writing today--too busy. I printed out the last half and will do a readthrough tomorrow. I'm going to go ahead and forget about the last chapter for now; at least till I get back from CA. This is for marketing/selling/business reasons. I don't really intend to discuss that side of the business here, but the fact is, if you're trying to make a living at writing, the business stuff can heavily influence your decisions about when to send things in. A writer with a secondary source of income often has the luxury of being able to hang onto a ms and let it cool, where somebody like me does not. I have a handful of tricks to help ease this handicap (because it is one), and they can definitely speed up the writing/revision process, but they don't always make up the gap caused by not having time to see your ms with a completely fresh and clear eye.
A writer friend suggests looking at Harry Potter 7, since Rowling has a tie-up chapter at the very end. Rereading that last chapter, it looks like JKR has one scene (parents seeing kids off to school from train station) and gets most of her info in by showing the current relationships (who ended up with whom), and gets the rest in via dialogue. None of it is as clunky or "telling" as what I have. And I currently have two scenes, sort of. Hmm. Why is it that JKR can tie up seven books in one scene without telling, but it's taking me two scenes and a ton of telling to tie up my one book?

Let's see. She brings almost everybody into the same scene at once. I might be able to do that, but will it work? Because I'm thinking that what she mostly shows is who's married now and who has kids. That doesn't require much explanation; we've known these characters a long time and we already know what to expect and look for. Mine just seems more complicated; maybe that's because I'm too immersed in it and am overthinking. But it could be because I have to explain...OH!--I notice something. She uses a setting and scenario (kids off to school) we are very familiar with. We've seen it in the beginning of almost every book. I'm in a new setting, unfamiliar to the reader. My character has moved from an old life to a new one. Now, I was semi-thinking about bringing him back around home at the end; it feels like it might be the right thing. But it also feels kind of boring. However, I'm already bored because the story's over, so that might not mean anything.

Well. I dunno. Must mull it over. I can't write till late this afternoon anyway.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

It looks like I may not get to write today, because I've had to do other stuff all day, and now I've got some other writerly obligations that must be attended to. I was thinking that if I work hard tomorrow, I'd have all day Saturday to myself for a nice deep dig of a readthrough on the second half. Then I remembered I have a family reunion in a town a couple of hours away. I need to stay home and work, but I didn't go to this reunion last year, and must go this time. So Saturday is pretty much shot, writing-wise.

I did get some of the last chapter written out yesterday. It's not wagging my tail. But it's there on paper, anyway. And it is the last chapter.

Maybe I can manage to do some smoothing and gruntwork (in this case, transitions) later tonight. We'll see.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

I went back and tried to fix a couple of spots that weren't working (characters' action weren't quite believable; I didn't change their actions but thought the scenes through again and tried to make their motivations clearer to the reader). But now I pretty much have to try to work on that very last chapter. The tying-it-all-up chapter. Ugh. I thought about not doing it at all, just ending the ms and letting whoever reads it know that I'll write that later, if the book sells. The last chapter has little to do with the story, IMO--it just tells what happened to everybody afterwards. Although now that I think about it, I guess that might be important to me, as a reader. As a writer, though, it's B-O-R-I-N-G. No conflict, no tension, nothing left to discover. Just blah blah blah. It might as well be a grocery list in prose. I find myself thinking about doing laundry or mowing the lawn, rather than working on it. That means the only thing to do is just effin' gut it out. Write my boring grocery list of a last chapter and get it at least sketched in. Blech.

Maybe one way to approach it is to actually make a real list of all the things I know the reader needs to know, at this point. That way I might be able to avoid going off on weird tangents that are more fun than a grocery list.

Hmm, I'm not sure--in this kind of chapter is it best to get the info out and wrap it up quickly, or is it best to play around in scene for a while? Probably some combination of the two.

I'm thinking of that last wrap-up in Jo's Boys, where LM Alcott gets everybody's eventual fates onto the paper as quickly as she can, hating every minute of it and saying outright that she wishes all the characters swallowed by an earthquake. Ha! I don't wish my characters swallowed by an earthquake (I'm not through with them, not by long shot), but I sympathize with having to write a chapter where you just tell what happened after the story is done.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

don't think, just write

Continued fixing next-to-last couple of chapters. Probably tomorrow I'll try to get that very last one into some kind of readable shape. That's going to be tough--but maybe, with luck, sometime this weekend I'll be far enough along do a readthrough of the second half of the book to see if the big picture is working. I've read over the first half too many times already, so will save that for one last beginning-to-end readthrough, once the second half is coming up to par.

If the big picture is not working, I'm pretty much screwed and will have to set the whole thing aside for a while. Which would be disastrous, so it doesn't bear thinking about right now.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Fleshed out quite a bit of next-to-last chapter, to the point of dividing it into two chapters. But I'm happy with it at the moment because the first part ends on a nice hook, and that's one big thing I'm trying to do here.

The entire point in starting this book was trying to write something with an actual plot. But that's expanded into trying to write something that rips along like crazy, so that the reader will have a hard time putting it down. While also keeping my interest in writing it, which is another matter entirely. It's been one h*ll of a stretch for me to write story and plot rather than character. I think maybe I haven't quite succeeded. But I'm learning a lot from it; pretty much every day I learn something or encounter a new problem that requires another stretch.

"I would rather have the two hundred and fifty-six imperfect books that mark the vectors of my journey through my art form than to have one perfect book that marks nothing but its own perfect self."--Barry Moser

Sunday, June 15, 2008

I backed up and smoothed out a couple of chapters near the end, then moved on through and got the next-to-last one nearly sketched out (d*mn those pesky transitions, some of which I skipped or left really ugly and ragged, like my dog wrote them). Got some stuff down for the very last chapter, which is a tying-it-all-up chapter, a "...and here's what happened to everybody afterwards" chapter. I have never done that before, and I think I'm bleeding into books two and three (this is the first book of a projected series). No, I know I'm bleeding into books two and three. But I'll leave it for now. I feel okay about what I have, but I know that's because I haven't gone back and reread it. Nevertheless, I'm gonna take "feeling okay" and run with it, because it's rare and must be appreciated while it lasts.

Here when I say "transitions" I'm not talking about between scenes, but very small transitions where I'm hooking together the bits I have, that I know I need. I have conversations or actions or thoughts or descriptions that I've been shifting all over the place, and now I'm putting them together into one scene, and they must read smoothly from one to the next to the next, as if I actually knew what I was doing all along. Smoke and mirrors.
Yesterday was family-oriented, so no actual writing. Did talk to a writer friend about swordfighting WIP. Good to get a fresh eye--took several pages of notes, and I feel energized to wrestle with the last couple of chapters. Will try to do that this afternoon--more family stuff first.

Friday, June 13, 2008

today's mantra

I just realized that I said I'd have this ms done--a decent first draft--before I leave for ALA on the 27th. I also just realized that today is the 13th. I thought I had at least three weeks; nope, I have less than two weeks, which is even less than it looks because I have to get the family and house set for my absence, plus the usual family things, plus several writing-related obligations. Even though I may not make this particular writing goal, I'm d*mn sure going to try. As usual, there is little choice but to try. If I can't handle this sort of pressure, well, they're always taking applications at Walmart.

I have several writing mantras, to be pulled out for various occasions. This is a clear case of "Don't think, just write."

Thursday, June 12, 2008

This swordfighting WIP has had ongoing problems with the girl character (all my mss have problems with the girl characters). In this ms, the main girl is fuzzy and I can't wrap my mind around her, and even if I ever do on occasion manage to wrap my mind around her I can't keep it there. This is a major reason for all my trouble spots, because even if I know generally what happens in a scene, it can't happen realistically and in an interesting, story-forwarding way if the characters aren't driving the action. Without a nailed-down character, the story is a partial skeleton with no flesh or guts.

A writer friend points out a minuscule trouble spot very early on that, if nailed down, would set the tone for the girl character's entire arc. In this spot, I fuzz out and give the reader zero indication of who this girl is. Writer Friend suggests writing it out from the girl's POV. Excellent idea, Writer Friend!

It scares me though, a little. Thinking about it, I'm worried about getting off on some weird course. I have so many things in my head about this ms that take over whenever I try to start figuring out a character I'm weak on. I start pushing the characters around. What I need them to do seems carved in stone, when I'm really supposed to be letting them decide what to do. So...I think what I'll do is write a scene (or whatever I feel like writing) that's not going to be in this book, a scene that takes place afterwards, after everything in this story has been resolved. I think I'll see where she stands then. I won't be able to use any of this in the ms, of course. But jeezus, I hope it helps. I'm sick of not being able to get this right. It's like I'm trying to walk across a room and somebody keeps sticking a foot out to trip me. All I want to do is walk across the room! How freakin' hard can it be?

Maybe, after this thingee (my word for working-out-character bits that don't go in the ms), I should also write a thingee that takes place before this story. Don't know if I'll have time today, though.

So to write.

random writing-related thought

I was thinking that not being noticed may sometimes be able to help your writing life. I'm talking about being a published author whose books debut to the sound of crickets (been there, done that). That can drive you outward; it can drive you to panic and worry and desperation. I've heard somewhere that half of all first time authors never publish another book. Maybe those who keep publishing are the ones who (at least partly) turn it inward. Maybe after a certain point we tell ourselves: "Nobody's looking at what I write. Nobody cares. Nobody may even buy it. So...what do I want to do?" And I think--not sure about this--it may actually be a leg up that helps us ramp up our skills and creativity, our ability to listen to ourselves. Even maybe to get back to what we loved about writing in the first place.

And conversely--now that I think about it--maybe that helps our chances of being noticed. There's a scary thought.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Finished first draft of Printz speech. Muddled through most of one chapter of swordfighting WIP. I sort of skipped some of the transitions when they got too hard. I hate transitions. And I don't know how to end the chapter. What I have is stupid. Must think how to make it less stupid. With luck, I'll wake up tomorrow knowing the answer. Without luck...I'll just wake up.

I did think of a way to describe this ms to my agent: Alexandre Dumas with a manga series sensibility.


This is meant to be a daily journal of a working writer. However, I have not written yet today. I futzed around getting this blog set up instead, then went to do family stuff. Now we're back from the family stuff, and I think the blog may indeed be set up. Now I'm thinking I'll chip away at my Printz honor speech, then dig in on the Ending From Hell for my swordfighting WIP.

I have the skeleton for the ending; I know what is going to happen over the last five or however many chapters. I feel fairly sure there's nothing to be done but power my way through it and let it be horribly, horribly wrong in a million different ways, which I will try to fix over the next weeks by going down (and thus eliminating) every dead end known to mankind. The big scary question is, is this skeleton even the right one to flesh out in the first place? I know for sure this question will not be answered today.

And so to work.

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