Friday, December 20, 2013

Happy Holidays and a Blog Break...

Hey all,

The holidays are upon us. Wednesday marked my last day of work for 2013, and the husband and I have already traveled far enough north that our snot freezes within seconds of stepping outside. From now on we're going to be focusing on visiting friends and family, celebrating the winter solstice and all the other new fangled holidays that have attached themselves to it, and eating ourselves to an early case of type two diabetes. With all that on my plate (both literally and figuratively) I will be putting the blog and serial writing on hold a bit.

I know, I know, I thought (and even wrote on my blog) that the holidays would give me more time to write, but I realized today (in the midst of all the holiday visiting) that I actually need a vacation from everything. I generally find writing rejuvenating, and I may get some done over the break, but I need to allow myself not to. So, I make no promises for the next two weeks. We finish traveling on the 2nd of January, so I will get back to posting regularly and editing/publishing chapters of Blade's Edge regularly on the 3rd of January, but until then, I am on holidays.

So, I send holiday cheer to you all and hope that the season is full of peace and happiness for you and your loved ones. See you next year!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Part Two begins... As do the holidays

Well, I will admit that I got Chapter 8 of Blade's Edge up a little bit later than planned (around 10:30pm) but I did make it happen on Monday at least. Whew!

Sorry to all for the delay! The weekend was busier than I had thought and getting a good bead on Part Two before I put metaphorical pen to paper was an involved process. I'm so glad I took the time to do it though, because lots is changing in this rewrite. 

I still find it a bit weird that I'm basically "publishing" a second draft. I've had someone else read over almost every chapter before I publish it (that's after I do a my crazy rewrite, followed by yet another read through by moi), and then I read it over yet again after they give me their corrections, but still, it's really just the second draft of this novel and that feels... like cheating. Shhhh... Don't tell anyone.

Yet when I compare my chapters with all of the top voted stories on JukePop I find that my editing seems to be at least on par with (if not ahead of) the people who are finding the most success on the site, so that's reassuring.

In related news: When last I checked I had 93 votes on JukePop Serials, which puts my novel at 108th place out of around 500 novels. Woot! That makes me happy. I'm looking forward to breaching the 100 vote mark and possibly shooting into the top 100 places over the next couple weeks. Wouldn't that be fun? How about shooting into the top 30? That would be fun AND lucrative at the same time. Sweet!

Anyway, the holidays are starting up soon (my last day of teaching for this calendar year is Wednesday) and for us this year, that means a lot of traveling. We're going to see both families this year, the Canadians and the Americans, so it's a lot of time with my butt in a plane. This, secretly, works in your favor (assuming you're reading/enjoying Blade's Edge), because me stuck on a plane = me editing novel. Yay!

At any rate, I hope to post fairly consistently over the holidays, mainly because I have more free time than usual. That said, actually spending time with family is important (especially when you've shelled out a bunch of dosh for plane tickets just to do so) so if I don't post as many new chapters as you're hoping, I hope you'll forgive me for not acting like a total hermit over my vacation. 

In the meantime, I am preparing myself mentally for Canadian winter weather (and also by spending money on the interwebs in exchange for warmer clothes/boots) so that we can have an enjoyable winter holiday in the land of Curling. At least we're guaranteed a white christmas!

Our excursions in the US will be substantially warmer, but equally filled with hot toddies and good food, and we're really looking forward to the double christmas. 

Well, I'm about to fall asleep, so I think this is where I will leave you all. Please enjoy Blade's Edge Chapter 8 (also known as: Part Two: Chapter 1) and have happy holidays! Don't forget to +vote!

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Take a Deep Breath...

Whew! I've just finished my read through of the remainder of Blade's Edge. It took longer than expected because I had to track down the hand written final 20,000 words after discovering that they weren't anywhere on my computer. I will have to transcribe them to the land of digital words soon so that I can't lose them. Yipes!

In the meantime, I've been teaching, coaching, and dorm parenting all week, and getting the final touches ready for the play. (I'm the technical director for the theater program here at my school.) The play premiered last night and concluded today with a matinee performance. So that's all wrapped up, but the whole thing has left me with less time than I would like for rewriting. However, I have still managed to work some on Blade's Edge every day. I am hopeful that between tomorrow and Monday I can get chapter 8 ready to rock.

Parts two and three of Blade's Edge need a lot of work, but I was pleasantly surprised to see how much of the manuscript I still enjoy. I have some good ideas for how to make things awesome in Part Two and Part Three, so I hope I'll be able to sort those out well enough in the next 24 hours to be able to rewrite a solid Chapter 8 (which for those who've forgotten, or missed my last post, is the beginning of Part Two).

In the meantime the husband and I are getting ready to travel and see family for the holidays. We're doing two visits, one to his hometown in Manitoba and one to my sister's place out in North Carolina. Between the two stops we'll actually get to see all of both of our immediate families, so we're very happy even though it's a fair bit of traveling. Luckily, to ensure that we are rested up we are coming home a couple days before break ends so that we can recover before things start up again at work.

Well, I think I'd better go get to work. Hope this post finds all of you well!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

A Behind the Scenes Look... writing a serial.

Well, I can't speak as to what other serial authors do. I've read the blogs of one or two other authors who write for JukePop Serials and they both had different approaches, so please bear in mind that this is just how I go about things.

I mention this now, because there may be a slight delay between Chapter 7 (the latest chapter up on JukePop for Blade's Edge) and Chapter 8 (which I would normally have up by Friday, but might take a bit longer because... read the rest of this post to find out why).

It certainly seems like other JukePop authors are writing their stories as they go. Or at least writing them with only a few chapters of lead time. That is not true for Blade's Edge. Blade's Edge was a completed first draft (or 90% complete anyway) when I first submitted to JukePop Serials. Of course, JukePop only asks for your first chapter, so that's all they got from me, but the whole thing has been written in first draft form. Those of you who write will not be surprised when I tell you that only about 30-60% (and sometimes well less that 30%) of my first draft for each chapter actually makes it into the published chapter. Those of you who don't write might be scratching your head and saying WTF?

The first draft of any novel, by any author, is likely to contain a whole lot of crap, and no, I'm not just talking about missed commas, typos, and an inability to properly place a semi-colon (though yes, certainly those too). I'm talking about whole, giant sections of text that don't actually belong in the book. Pages of narrative that are unnecessary or shouldn't be written as narrative. Characters that shouldn't exist. Explanations that are the opposite of subtle... And that's just a small part of the list of things that are there but need to be cut. After that, there are all the things that aren't there and need to be added. Better dialogue, better description, any description at all, consistency in age, physical appearance, demeanor in any given character, item, or place...

It goes on and on. Non-writers might be saying "well why don't you put those things in your first draft?" Because when I wrote my first draft, I was just getting the bones of the story on paper. I was doing my best to include all of those things (and not include the bad parts) but mostly I was just trying to get all my ideas for the story down on paper. Now, I will grant you, that if I were a bigger fan of outlining and character mapping, some of this wouldn't happen in the first draft, but most of it would. Because it's never the things one plans for that take off running and leave you with a pile of wordarrhea to clean up afterwards. It's always the new character that threw themselves in the mix, or the diamond encrusted sword that showed up in a cave for no reason, or the talking mule that you never planned on writing into your story that throws you and leaves you with a mess to clean up. But those messes often lead to nuggets of genius, and it's often (though certainly not always) worth it to pursue those threads when they appear.

Which makes your first draft into a crazy web of awesome, covered in a pile dung, wrapped in a blanket of ridiculous, smothered in two layers of what the f***? And it is your job, as the author, to sort through all of that (cutting, scraping and untangling as you go) pull out the awesome, and straighten it up so that others can actually follow it and hopefully enjoy it. That is the process of revision and rewriting. It will happen with every manuscript to varying degrees.

Blade's Edge was written for National Novel Writing Month (heretofore to be referred to as NaNoWriMo) in 2009. I had just moved to Japan, was working "full time" (read getting paid full time salary to teach 15hrs a week) and had enough time that instead of writing the requisite 50,000 words for NaNoWriMo I decided I would shoot for 100,000 words. I succeeded. However, in my attempt to write over 3000 words a day for the entire month of November, more wordarrhea came out than might have normally. This may not be surprising to you, but it was surprising to me largely because I had proven that I could write 50,000 words in a month with little trouble, and not much in the way of wordarreha. In addition, I had done wayyyy more planning for this novel than I ever had before. I had outlines for chapters, character descriptions, and copious notes on various sections of the book. I thought this would help me stay on track, but instead I felt trapped by the work I had already done and felt like parts of the book were already set in stone, which led to a lot of writing that lacked the spark I usually enjoy during first draft. So, at the end of 100,000 words and almost a full book (just missing the capstone final chapter and epilogue even though I knew what I wanted to have happen) I put the manuscript aside and decided that once I was better at rewrites I would tackle it then.

Fast forward to October 2013. I have written only two other full first drafts of a novel, have taken one of those first drafts through multiple other drafts, and have a publisher interested in it. I have just discovered (thanks to the NaNoWriMo website) JukePopSerials and am considering the possibilities. Blade's Edge has sat untouched for four years. So, I decide to dust it off and see if I can make anything happen with the first few chapters. I read it for the first time in years. The prologue and Chapter 1 look promising. I keep reading. All of Part 1 (the book is in three parts) looks salvageable with a bit (or a lot) of work. I decide to submit the prologue and Chapter 1 all rolled together into one opening gambit. In late November, as I'm working away on my most recent novel, I receive an acceptance letter from JukePop Serials. I'm ecstatic. I get down to the serious work of rewriting and revising for Chapter 2.

Rinse and repeat. Each chapter that you've read on JukePop Serials, despite what typos and comma splices may have survived the rewrite, has been markedly transformed from its original state. The chapters that were in good condition kept perhaps 60% of their original text, the chapters that were in bad condition kept less than 30%. Chapter 7 quite possibly lost 90% of its original content and gained 2000 words of new material. Chapter 7 marked the end of Part One of the novel. Chapter 8 (aka Part Two, Chapter 1) marks the beginning of Part Two. Part Two has jumped forward in time (I won't spoil it with telling you how far forward here), and Taka and Mishi are about to embark on important challenges.

So, here's the reason that Chapter 8 might be a bit delayed (I'm hoping no later than next Monday): Part Two is currently a mess, and the whole section needs to be rewritten as whole if it's going to be consistent and awesome. The small surgeries that I was doing on Chapters 1 - 7 will no longer do the trick, and to get things up to par it's going to take some serious work, time and love... and I'm still working a full time job. Luckily I have a long weekend ahead of me.

Please bear with me through this slight delay as I try to dig out all of the awesome for you, and make this book what it's supposed to be, rather than what it morphed into during its first draft. I hope you'll enjoy the results.

As ever, thanks for reading! I hope everyone is enjoying a beautiful and peaceful December.

Don't forget to catch up on Blade's Edge Chapters 1 - 7 so that you're ready for Chapter 8 when it comes out.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Badass Women and Body Image Issues

There's been a lot of talk about this on the internet recently, and I'm not usually one to jump on a bandwagon, but as someone who writes fiction driven almost entirely by strong women it's a relevant and important topic of discussion. Of course, I think that would be true even if I didn't write fiction driven by strong women.

None of my characters have issues with body image. That's not really intentional, it's just how it is. It could change in the future, and perhaps it should, but for the moment not a single main character of mine suffers from body image issues. This is, perhaps, unrealistic. However there are a number of factors at play here:

  1. My characters don't live in the real world: the majority of the novels I write take place in fantasy worlds of my own making. So far, none of those worlds have anything like our current media to spread the images of an idealized body shape and consequently none of my main characters are able to compare themselves to said shape and find themselves wanting.
  2. It's not a phenomenon that I identify strongly with, and consequently it doesn't usually occur to me to add it as a character trait. That's not to say that I don't have any body image issues, I probably do. I'm sure at some point I've thought that I don't like how some part of me looks and that thought has probably been driven more by exterior influences than by my own sound judgement. Still, for whatever reason, it hasn't happened often. I don't watch television. I watch very few movies, I don't buy magazines, I don't live in a big city, and consequently I am not as exposed to the images of other women's bodies that so many women are exposed to on a day to day basis. 
  3. I happen to like my body. When I'm frustrated with it, it's usually because it refuses to do something I want it to do, like keep rock climbing when I'm tired, run faster during the 13th mile, not have asthma when faced with something silly like cat dander, etc. I generally like how it looks. I usually only get mad at it for failing me when I'm doing something fun, and so I don't think of my body as something I need to change except to train it to climb longer, run faster, do more pull ups etc. Consequently, that's how most of my characters perceive their bodies as well.
  4. My characters don't care what other people think about them, because in general I don't either. I think this is a factor because a number of body image issues stem from what we perceive other people's ideals to be, and strive to meet those ideals. Since other people's ideals (with a few hand selected exceptions) matter not a jot to me, my main characters tend to be the same way. 
I should clarify here, that I don't try to make my main characters like me. Indeed, if they were all like me, that would be incredibly boring. That's a whole lot of sameness strewn over six full manuscripts (to date). So, that's not something I strive for. Variety in main characters adds flavor to my writing, requires more creative thinking, and pushes me outside of my comfort zone, which is always a good thing. However, there are certain things that I don't think of when I'm writing a character because it's outside of my experience, and if it's not directly related to the plot, I'm unlikely to come up with it. 

Hence, I don't usually include body image issues in the list of things my characters have to deal with. But, what I'm wondering here is if I'm doing a disservice to my readers or characters by leaving it out. It's an important issue. Some of my fiction is YA (young adult for those who don't spend a lot of time familiarizing themselves with fiction categories) and am I leaving out a pertinent issue by not addressing this in those novels? In some of them it would be totally forced. I can't see any of my fantasy characters (unless they're urban fantasy, and currently they aren't) feeling pressured by the imagery of the media. Yet, that doesn't mean there can't be some version of it that they deal with. 

In addition, my characters wouldn't have to have serious body image issues in order to address the problem. They could simply reflect on how they were tired of "all those princesses in the bardic tales, needing rescue and wearing gowns, getting captured by the most inept of bad guys." You get the idea...

But, is that kind of dismissal of body image an insult to today's young women? It seems like it's a serious fight to stay proud of what you've got when you're constantly bombarded with images of women that quite literally do not exist anywhere on the planet (thank you photoshop). Does not having a character who deals with that very real struggle dismiss an issue that effects thousands (or hundreds of thousands, or possibly millions) of young women across the globe?

As a woman who wants to fight the kind of sexism and media exploitation that creates these kinds of issues culturally, can I afford not to address this issue in my writing at some point? 

There are so many important themes that are worth pursuing with any given novel. It's difficult to decide which ones to focus on, as a novel that tries to address them all is bound to fail. 

Is it enough to write characters who are strong, female, and don't give a shit about what the rest of the world thinks of their choices? Or is it important to go further, to write the character that does care, or thinks she does, and winds up miserable, and then learns the hard way that it doesn't matter?

The long and short of it is that women's perceptions of themselves are hurt by the media and popular culture as it stands, and that needs to change. In one way or another I would like to effect that change. 

If you're interested in reading about two strong young women who are struggling with their own challenges (thus far unrelated to body image), check out Blade's Edge over on JukePop Serials. Chapter 7 is now up. :-)

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Technical Difficulties and the Meaning of Christmas

Well, to start with I put up the latest chapter of Blade's Edge today, or I tried to, but it's not working on the website. However, if you have downloaded the free mobile app for your iPhone or Android smart phone, you can still read Chapter 6. For some reason it's working through the mobile app, but not through website. I have sent multiple heads up to the JukePop Serials website folks and hopefully they will be able to fix the situation soon. I will update here and on social media as soon as I have any updates on its functioning. In the meantime, if you have a smart phone, you can still read and +vote the story as you normally would with the jukepop app! :-)

In the meantime, I'm starting to feel like the manuscript I chose to rewrite for this course really is beyond salvage. We'll see how I feel about it after lesson 2, but after that first read through there is so little that I want to keep, and there are so many giant holes, that I am concerned that there's nothing I will be able to do to salvage the story except throw it all out and start a new one. At any rate, I can still use it to learn a lot from this course, so I will keep plugging away at it, but my hopes are not as high as they once were.

I didn't really plan to talk about the meaning of Christmas in this post, it just struck me as something funny to put into a blog title. As an atheist Christmas doesn't have the kind of meaning attached to it for me that it does for others, but I consider the winter holidays an important time of year. For me they represent time to spend with loved ones, and a time for reflection. I often spend the winter holidays thinking about where I hope to take my life in the coming year, not in terms of new years resolutions, or other fleeting fads, but in terms of a long term outlook for my own contentment and sense of self.

This year I have been thinking about writing a lot in particular, of course, that's always true as November wraps up and December kicks in, and here I sit with another first draft of a novel... but this year it feel more permanent. Like I'm moving more solidly in that direction than I ever have before. Like it's a commitment I'm actually making to myself, instead of something I mention once or twice to my close friends but then don't actually do anything about. The more Novembers I spend focused on writing, the more time I spend writing the rest of the year, and the more I do that the more I realize it's really what I'm meant to be doing.

Not sure how I got to that from the meaning of Christmas, but oh well. How's that for late night blog rambling? I hope that this post finds all of you doing well, and I hope that all of you get a chance to spend time with loved ones this holiday season, and that it brings, happiness, peace, and clarity to all who seek it.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Writers and Self Promotion: Shameless or Invaluable?

Or both?

Being an artist of any kind requires putting yourself out there, or at least it does if you want to make a living through your art. It's true for painters, sculptors, musicians, any kind of artist, and especially true for authors.

Why do I say especially true for authors? I think it largely comes down to the time commitment you're asking of your audience.

If you paint or sculpt, you can share images of your work with people in a matter of seconds. It takes only a moment for a friend to see it, share it with others, and consider themselves a solid supporter of their "artist friend."

For music, it's a bit more of a commitment, 2 -5 minutes for the average track, but again, a friend or colleague can listen and appreciate your work without committing too much of their time, and they can share it with friends without feeling like they're asking too much of people.

Then there's writing: even if it's just a short story, you're looking at at least a five to fifteen minute commitment, and if it's a whole book? That's hours of someone's life. It's a lot more difficult to cut out that kind of time in a work day, or any day, or a series of weeks, and people feel awkward asking their friends to commit that kind of time.

Keep in mind, right now, I'm just talking about sharing art that is free. It gets even more complicated once we start attaching a price tag.

So, to be an artist is to impose on people, or at least it always feels that way when you're the artist. It feels like you're asking a lot of someone to take the time to focus on your work, especially since there is so much other work out there that they might choose to view first.

In truth, rather than an imposition, I would argue that artists of all kinds share and spread a much needed relief from the tedium of day to day life, and that really when we "impose on people" to share our work we're really acting as a magical fairy of goodness and light that spreads creativity, joy, and beauty across the realms with sugar dust, magic, and golden unicorns that fart lolipops and gum drops.

I might be biased.

Still, it feels awkward sometimes, asking people to take time out of their busy days to read my work, or to suggest that they recommend it to their friends (assuming they find it recommendable (and assuming that they have friends)). I feel like I'm annoying people by asking them to go the trouble to create an account in order to read my work. I feel like a jerk for bugging people to +vote my story so that I can make it into the top thirty writers and thus gain an audience outside of those wonderful friends...

The thing is though, that writing is my passion. Yes, I love my teaching job, and yes, I am currently paying the bills with that. But ultimately I would like to make writing my full time gig, and to do that I have to start small. I have to start with the people I know and love because, hey, if the people I love won't read my stuff, why should people who don't know me? Having friends and family spread the word is how things get started, especially in today's world of social media.

The awkward thing about making a living out of an artistic passion, is that people often consider art extraneous.

Yet I would argue that art is a necessity for any kind of meaningful life. It's a reflection on what the world is and what it can be, it's an escape to a better place in times of sorrow, a celebration in times of joy, a little world all its own to be appreciated in any way that the audience sees fit.

In the words of my good friends Lauren and Brett Andrus who run a consortium of art galleries and classes etc. in Colorado Springs, "You need art. Art needs you."

So, this holiday season, as you're deciding what to get for your loved ones, consider supporting art in whatever form you fancy.

I'm going to go back to proudly promoting my work rather than shamelessly doing so:

Monday, December 2, 2013

Chapter 5 of Blade's Edge and other Monday Ramblings

First of all, check out Chapter 5 of Blade's Edge now up on JukePop Serials! A return to my day job almost kept me from getting the newest Chapter up and ready for the mid-day post lunch internet rush, but I just made it (at least in my time zone).

A couple quick notes/reminders about the way that JukePop works (if you're already familiar with JukePop please skip past the bullet points):

  • if you haven't created a free account you won't be able to read past Chapter 1
  • once you've created your account please +vote every chapter that you read and enjoy
  • once you've read three chapters or more of a novel it is automatically added to your "bookshelf" and you will be notified within 24 hours of a new chapter being published (you can turn this setting off in your settings if you like)
  • once I have published a chapter I can NEVER edit it again... :-( So, while I normally appreciate feedback on typos and missed commas etc. that kind of feedback won't help me in this case
  • comments on how you like the characters, story arc, and other things that can be adjusted in upcoming chapters, are welcome and may (or may not) be addressed as the novel progresses
  • the "support the author" button allows you to tip the author of the story you're enjoying should you think they deserve it

In the meantime, it's Monday, and everyone in our little bubble of world is just back from a week of holidays, immediately preceded by field trips, so it feels like we haven't seen anyone in months. It's nice to be back and I like the new approach that we're taking to this awkward space between Thanksgiving and Christmas, newly dubbed Decembermester. Decembermester is a two and a half week span in which we switch to (hopefully) more project based, hands on, learning using block classes to give everyone an opportunity to take students places they wouldn't be able to otherwise. Should be fun.

In other news, I'm making progress with my new revision class, and am looking forward to lesson two which I get to start on Friday of this week. I wound up choosing to work with a novel that I wrote back in 2008 that I didn't like enough to even pick up again after it was done. It was fun to write, but I thought the state of the overall story by the end was beyond help. I'm using it for this course for a couple of reasons: 1. It's short, just over 50,000 words and so it won't drive me as crazy to have to read it over and over again. 2. I thought it was unsalvageable so it will be a good test of this revision process to see how good I can make it. 3. I thought it was unsalvageable so if I still have a only a pile of crap at the end I won't feel like I wasted a manuscript.

So that's what's going on in the wilds of Northern Arizona, where the high school students roam free and the adults who still think they're in high school (aka high school teachers) play among the red rocks. Not sure when Chapter 6 will be up, but I wouldn't be surprised if it were sometime between Wednesday and Friday.

Happy December!