My Blogging Lapse, RT2014 People-Watching, and Stuff

Nancy Brant asked me to participate in a writing process blog hop and I saw it as an opportunity to post something. I haven’t blogged in a while. It sucks, but there’s a reason for it that’s relevant to my writing process. For me, writing takes one road, and reading/reviewing/blogging/promoting take another. I am working on strategy to manage both at the same time, but I’m not there yet.

There are a few, very exciting things happening with my writing career. A few years ago, I would have found one of them greatly disappointing. The benefit of time, and rapid progress in the industry, is that what might have been a setback only three years ago is now a blessing, and not even a disguised one. I apologize for being vague. I’d love to tell the story, because I think it’s an interesting one, but I neither can nor should. Truly, it doesn’t provide much value for other writers, not even for those in a similar situation.

RT2014

Marie Sexton, Me, and Alanna Coco

I attended RT 2014 in New Orleans this year. I met great people, spent a lot of time with my childhood friend, Marie Sexton, and sat in on some insightful panels. However, the most valuable thing I took away from the conference is something I observed while people watching among the indie authors. The ones that are successful–which I will define as having name recognition with strangers (think Lilliana Hart)—had two things in common that most of the authors in NOLA lacked. One, they referred to themselves as “indie publishers”, and two, they don’t sit still. Their books are the sellable component of their personal businesses, which is kept afloat with various entrepreneurial requirements. Whereas many self-published authors are fighting to connect with readers to sell a book, these few are reading trade publications, making connections, and building brands. Their books are marketing them, rather than the other way round.

Clearly, it’s not a model for success that can be implemented overnight by a working mom with a daily 50-mile round trip commute, but it’s nice to have an attainable goal.

Right now, the bulk of my focus is on Glitch, book one of a YA Sci-fi series. As of this morning, Glitch is a working title, because a book with that title was released in the same genre back in February. The idea for “The Winter Son” trilogy came about from a desire to dabble in the war between angels, but make angels the bad guys. It was originally called “The Choir Boys,” and it was intended to be a paranormal romance featuring an immortal paramilitary operative, but my main character argued that he wasn’t old enough to vote, so changes had to be made. I finish books, but they’re never the ones I start.

I’ve been asked how my work is different from others in its genre. I think that’s a question better left to readers. There’s a literary concept called “suspension of disbelief” and basically, readers cannot relate to something perfect. The more incredible something is–wealthy, beautiful, and/or powerful—the more flawed it has to be. Take any superhero you like and weigh his/her strengths against weaknesses. You’ll find they balance each other out.

It might be a cop out, but I try to make my characters on the average side, more representable of the young adult population. I avoid hot heroes and girls with red hair and green eyes. I have smart kids who make dumb, and sometimes selfish decisions. My world building is largely contemporary, but as the story progresses and the surface is scratched, evidence of richer, darker, even alien worlds can be found beneath.

I never set about writing this way. It evolved over time. I’m half-Japanese, and having been raised in Wyoming, I have come to self-identify as a white woman. For half of my life, I was a practicing Mormon, but in my 20s, I discovered an atheist within. I’m Pro-Gun, Pro-Choice, Pro-Fiscal Responsibility, Pro-Diversity, and a straight ally of the LGBT community. My writing, I believe, is a reflection of me, and written for my 16-year-old self…a girl whose life was shaped by reading books that were over her head.

My writing process is one that needs to change the more I think about it. I work out ideas in notebooks, write scenes in Scrivener, edit on hard copy, and I get done when I get done. It worked well when I was writing for myself, but my goals have changed. One day, I hope to quit my job and write full-time, and spending two years to complete one book isn’t going to get me there.

I was supposed to tag in three other writers to post next Monday, but like I said…I have two roads at the moment. Finding authors to participate turned out to be on the other one. Instead, please check out these great new releases.

Summoned, by Rainy Kaye

The Devil Made Me Do It  (Book 2, Speak of the Devil Series), by Shawna Romkey

Endured (Book 3, Shadowed Love Series), by Kinley Baker

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I am reblogging this for several reasons. First, my own personal horror at the massacre in CT, and at the bickering back and forth between the pro/anti-gun crowds before children were even identified to the public. I think that lawmakers’ focus on “assault weapons” is misdirected and a waste of time and money. But mostly, I am reblogging because this article is really all about storytelling. He discusses fallacy, symbolism, imagery, human nature, and lessons we’ve learned from history but are choosing to ignore. It’s good research, conveniently compiled all in one place, and if the titles to other recent posts are any indication, there might be a whole lot more great information on this blog.

Wendy

Kontradictions

[EDIT: After this article was published, the Democratic party officially added support of the assault weapon ban renewal to their party platform and it was reintroduced in the following Senate session in the hopes that Newtown would help it push through. It died.]

Between Two Worlds

It’s not easy being a leftist who loves guns. It’s like being a Republican who listens to NPR or supports single payer health care. But being a leftist, I get exposed to all the liberal publications and media that invariably call for gun control every time someone does something stupid with one. Being a gun enthusiast, I also get exposed to the political Right’s oversimplification of those liberals as somehow lacking moral fiber or true appreciation of freedom. Rather than agreeing with both, I tend to end up arguing with both. It’s exhausting to always feel like I’m apologizing for the other “side”.

This…

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The Right Question

For me, researching a novel usually involves dredging Google, clicking through Wikipedia to follow the rabbit hole wherever it might lead, or watching television. (Mock if you must, but there’s a lot to be learned from prime time drama.)

And sometimes, research can be as simple as asking the right person the right question.

Kiev (via Picture Ninja)

The scene I’m working on has one of my lead characters on a treadmill. During her workout, she stares at a framed poster on the wall in front of her. My intention is to tie the picture into a setting later on the novel (or series), and in the initial draft, the image was of Kiev’s (Ukraine) skyline, with Minsk’s (Belarus) as a second possibility.

Minsk (via Svoy Krug)

At this point, I took a step back. As I’ve mentioned before, “Virgo” takes place in an alternate universe. I set points of divergence from our history months ago, so whatever city I use for Delilah’s poster, it has to be appropriate to the altered universe, not ours, so reading the Wikipedia page of either city isn’t really going to work.

Fortunately for me, I happened to know a very intelligent person who lives in Belarus. What follows is a short conversation that derailed my Kiev/Minsk plans before they got started.


Me: I’m toying with the idea of incorporating an Eastern European city into my new story…that may be a series. It’s very loose at the moment. If I used it, it wouldn’t be until book 2, but either way I have to drop a hint in at the beginning of 1. (It’s just how I roll.) I’m thinking Kiev or Minsk.

Anyhow, I was wondering how Belarus might be different today had the Nazis not invaded Russia during WW2, and the Cold War didn’t happen. The story involves both scenarios, in addition to other key historical changes.

Any thoughts?

Ivan: Hmm, an intriguing question. We here usually ask ourselves what would have happened if the Nazis had conquered the USSR.

Never considered the question you ask though 🙂

Well, I think the Iron Curtain would’ve never fallen and we’d live in isolation from the rest of the world.

But the USSR had so much territory someone was bound to try and conquer the country.

I’m not sure if I answered your question, if no, let me know 🙂

Me: Very interesting. The story uses the Nazis-attack-Turkey route. They gain control of the Black Sea oil, which has been argued would have guaranteed their win. Attacking Russia is where they screwed up, but…hmm, if the Iron Curtain doesn’t fall, that changes its usability for my story. Shit, I’m so glad I asked you!

Maybe I’ll use Mexico City. Or Madrid. Or…

Ivan: It’s only a conjecture, Wendy. I don’t know what would’ve happened if there hadn’t been wars. It’ll probably be better for you to choose a different location, but if you decide to take Minsk I’ll try to help you when necessary 🙂

Me: Right. I hear you. I don’t like the scenarios I’d have to think through…a reason for the Iron Curtain falling, or a reason for my characters going to the Soviet Union. After giving it some thought, they wouldn’t, so it’s down with the Curtain, which begs for Nazi invasion of Russia, just later. I didn’t pick a Western European capital because I didn’t want to deal much with Nazis. Mexico City’s looking better and better.

Thanks so much. You really helped me out! All of this was to decide which city’s skyline is framed on my MC’s living room wall. *sigh* I have issues.

Ivan: That’s quite an important point so it’s good you decided to pick one city 🙂


Ivan just uploaded the beginning chapters of his second novel to Authonomy. I recommend to any paranomal fan…check him out!

Back to Delilah’s poster, my heart isn’t in Mexico City. Then I read a news article while I was at work about Guadalajara being Mexico’s “Silicon Valley.” The country is putting billions into nurturing tech sector start-ups, making it just the kind of place where underground raves would feel right at home. Of course, no discussion of 21st century Mexico would be complete without addressing its drug cartels, BUT…as I mentioned earlier, this is an alternate universe.

Guadalajara is known for being a clean, peaceful city for much of its history. It’s only recently that it’s seen the kind of violence that is tearing apart the border towns of Mexico. The reason for this is Guadalajara is the home of several leaders of the Sinaloa cartel, and the city benefited from those men liking their home clean and quiet.

Then came 1999. The leader of the Gulf cartel formed a military arm to protect him from rival cartels and the Mexican military. In 2002, they became known as Los Zetas, and after the leader’s extradition to the US in 2007, the group took a greater leadership role in the Gulf Cartel’s operation. In 2010, Gulf and Los Zetas parted ways, and it’s the Zetas that are wreaking havoc in Guadalajara. Why is this important to my story?

Alternate universe, remember. The Zetas are such a recent development in Mexico’s history. I change one thing and they don’t split from the Gulf cartel. I change one more, and they don’t get created at all. That certainly sounds better to me than rewriting the fall of Soviet Russia so I can put Kiev or Minsk on a poster.

Guest Post on Lia London’s Blog

I’m on Lia London’s blog today talking about what walking into the Usual Suspects very late taught me about “slow reveals.” It’s called “Liars, Tools, and a Nifty Ball of String.” Please check it out!

The Déjà Vu Blogfest

Today, I am participating in The Déjà Vu Blogfest, a fun little idea to bring a post out of the archives thought up by blogger DL Hammons, Katie Mills (Creepy Query Girl, Lydia Kang, and Nicole Ducleroir. The Linky Tool is available on all four of their blogs if you’re interested in other archived posts.

It’s my very favorite post of 2011.

D helped me edit January Black.

D: I’m writing a story.
Me: What’s it about? Is it about dogs?
D: No. People.
Me: Kids?
D: Yeah.
Me: Does it have little boys?
D: No.
Me: Little girls?
D: No.
Me: Is it about mommies and daddies?
D: No…Mommy.
Me: Oh. That’s nice. Thank you.
D: No…not Mommy. Daddy.
Me: Ok. That’s nice too.
D: Mommy…draw on YOUR paper.

Originally posted on 1/9/2011.

I Found Old Story Notes!

I’m out of town on a work-related thing and I brought this little notebook with me to take notes. It was in the bag that once functioned as both purse and diaper bag; I haven’t seen this notebook since 2009. So, it was a pleasure to find notes in it from when I just started January Black. Because the story idea evolved, there’s no spoilers, so I thought I’d share.

Stargazing

I’ve mentioned before that JB started with a still frame of a boy looking at the stars.

First Chapter ==> Teenage boy stands in an overgrown garden. Storm is coming in. He needs to make a decision.

or

==> Is he hacking away at the overgrowth, to the confusion/horror of his servants?

The question here…what does the “Heysu” story have to do with the garden and the need to rip it out?

  1. The Heysu story is about a man who chooses “right.” It is not in his best interest, but it benefits mankind.
  2. The garden is a metaphor for the Regency. His action is his desire to rip it out.

This opening scene is the climax of the story. The rest will explain the scene and what he’s doing.

The man to tells him the Heysu Story is Eric Redstar, the former king, the night before he left Kelmarin.

Maybe intersperse this with scenes of Redstar having to make a decision elsewhere?

I have to keep things simple. This story is about the immediate consequences of a decision for a 12 year old boy. There are far reaching ones for the people around him.

So, what was retained in the final draft of January Black?

There’s a boy in a garden. There’s a story that influences him to rip that garden apart. And the name Red Star appears in the second chapter.

Sometimes notes are building blocks. Sometimes they’re tools. The trick is figuring out which is which.

What was January Black?

de·us ex ma·chi·na 
Noun \ˈdā-əs-ˌeks-ˈmä-ki-nə, -ˈma-, -ˌnä; -mə-ˈshē-nə\ 
1: a god introduced by means of a crane in ancient Greek and Roman drama to decide the final outcome 
2: a person or thing (as in fiction or drama) that appears or is introduced suddenly and unexpectedly and provides a contrived solution to an apparently insoluble difficulty

I owe January Black to deus ex machina.

Explaining that requires going back to 1999.  That was the year that I wrote Circle of the Butterfly, (280k words in ten months, pretty much by the seat of my pants,) and I had never heard the words deus ex machina.  It was explained to me the following year as “the physical presence of the hand of god.” I understood that to mean any higher power that interferes with the plot, but as god likes to pop in on various characters throughout Circle, the word “god” in the definition made me feel a bit ill.

At the time, I was working on a contemporary novel for a writing course I was taking at Louisiana State University.  The moment that I finished I took Circle out and started working on fixing the god problem. I wrote notes. I worked out characters, settings, and subplots out with friends. I wrote, and later cut, dozens of fleshed out scenes.  I dropped it for months at a time, picked it back up when a fresh idea occurred to me. Finally, when I realized that I had committed the writing equivalent of whipping egg whites into the protein-clump-floating-in-water stage, I stopped.  I took the original Circle out, read it through, and then I shelved the rewrite completely. I apologized to the friends who had done their best to help me through and told them I was quitting.

The problem, I saw at long last, was not deus ex machina.  There are lots of problems with Circle, but the “hand of god” played the role I had meant it to, and so I had spent nine years trying to fix something that wasn’t broken.  The real problem was less interesting.  I tend to overwrite, so I spent two months ripping out 80k words.  I am still not sure whether I should be more proud to have accomplished the edit or ashamed that it was necessary.

Quitting the rewrite left me with hundreds of pages of notes for a story that I no longer had any intention of completing. The scenes were good. The characters were rounded. The settings were rich. I was very sad to let every piece go. As NaNoWriMo creeped ever closer, I thought, “Why should I?” I had one undeveloped scene that I really loved…a snapshot of a pre-teen boy standing in an overgrown garden, looking up at the stars.  I named him Matty Ducayn and built Columbia up around him.

That’s how you came to write January Black, you might say, but what is it?

As Matty discovers, it’s not one thing. It’s not the same for everyone. And it can change. For Matty, it is a means to an end that becomes an obsession and then a hiding place.  For Iris, it’s a threat to the man she loves and their future together. For Hadrian, it’s a test to gauge the worthiness of a protege.

For me?

In September 2008, the US banking system suffered a crash as a result of risky mortgage derivative investments. We are still feeling the effects today.  Our politics are polarized. Our citizenry is angry with unemployment growing ever higher and the government bailing out private industries deemed too big to fail. The question that I asked myself as I thought about the boy standing in the overgrown garden…what options do we really have? In the 16th century, Protestants were upset with the way things were in Europe, so they left. They came to America and started a new life. That experiment cannot be repeated. In four hundred years, the world has become a very small place. There are no unclaimed territories for the intrepid to tame. We can abandon where we are and adopt the rules of a new place.  We can shed the trappings of our present lives and adopt those of new ones. We can change homes, wardrobes, churches, and jobs. But we cannot build a brand new society on virgin ground…not really.

For me, January Black began as an outlet for my own frustration with the economy.  Over months, it became something my seventeen-year-old self would have liked to read.