Letting It Stew

charlotte carrot stew

After four attempts, one ragequit, and still no official title, I finished writing the first draft of the Apartment Complex story!  It’s a little over 79k words (about what I expected and wanted) and has been copied to a single semi-formatted doc file that I can work on.  So now what?

I’m going to let it sit for a little bit.

Wait wait wait, I hear you say.  You’ve been working on this damn thing for six months and talking about it endlessly about how much you loved writing it.  Why are you NOT working on it now??

And that’s a legitimate question, and there are two answers for it.  The short one: I’m about to start revision edits for In My Blue World, which is next on the release schedule.  This one needs my attention the most right now.

The longer answer is that giving it a bit of distance lets me look at it with fresh eyes.  Even though I feel that the AC story is my best work to date, will I feel the same a few months down the road?  Reading this particular novel with rose-tinted glasses might keep me from seeing possible issues that need fixing.  Alternately, I might end up being overcritical and pick it completely apart and ruin any joy I felt with the story.

My days away from my novel projects are also personal; I’ve just finished a six-month, almost-daily slog, so I’m due a few days off to do nothing except goof around.  Play FreeCell.  Fiddle around with my mp3 collection.  Post fly-by blog entries.  Go outside and take walks.  Work on my exercise regimen.  Vacations from writing are great!  You should always take a few now and again, especially when you’ve just finished not one but two projects that both need revision.  Your brain and body will thank you!

The novel will always be there until I come back to it.  And hey, I might even have a title for it by then!

Letting My Writing Evolve

 

naruto confused
Yeah, I feel the same way sometimes, Naruto.

Over the past few years, I’ve come to the realization that I’ve learned an amazing amount as I evolve as a writer… and I’ve ‘unlearned’ just as much.  It’s not just the hard-and-fast general rules we all learned in school that I’m talking about, like the grammar and composition and all that.   I’m talking about rules regarding style and theme.

I think of my pre-trilogy work as me essentially learning the basics: in short, how to tell a cohesive story.  They followed everything I’d learned up to that point.  While you can definitely see a personal style coming out of it, the end result isn’t quite up to par.  I’m going by the rules, but I’m really not putting all that much of me in there to make it my own.  [I mean, other than dropping in obscure music references, inserting bad jokes, and general whinging about how life sucks.]

While my work finally evolved over the many years I worked on the trilogy revision, it really wasn’t until Meet the Lidwells and In My Blue World where I think I finally understood how my writing needed to evolve even further.  They’re both completely new projects that totally do not read the same way the trilogy does.  And even more so with the Apartment Complex story, where I’ve completely broken down any self-made barriers I’d put up in regards to style and story.

I tend to go through certain phases like this with certain aspects of my life; I’ll latch on to a new habit or process, or follow a new interest, and stay with it for a few years until I get bored with it.  This boredom isn’t caused by the thing itself; it’s that I’ve been digging away at it passively and without question until I realize it’s doing nothing for me anymore.  I suppose in the context of the trilogy — where I worked on the damn thing for almost twenty years — it was not just a relief to finally let it go, but to find a new project to latch onto, and in effect, a new writing process and style.

I’m pretty sure that in the next five or so years, I’ll have come up with some new writing projects that the me of today would never expect.  [The Apartment Complex story is a perfect example here.]  I’ve come to fully embrace the shorter turnaround and the shorter project that won’t keep me busy for years on end.  I’m still thinking of writing new stories in the Mendaihu Universe, sure, but they’re not going to be my only claim to fame (so to speak).  I find the quick turnaround much more exciting, and keeps my creative brain on the move.

I enjoy the idea that my writing continues to evolve.  I’m trying to get out of the age-old habit of telling the same stories over and over again, and this is the best way to do it.  I might still possess the occasional tell-tale stylistic quirks that make my writing unique, but the stories themselves will be different.  And that’s how I want it.  It’s how writing will continue to be a joy and an adventure for me.

Distractions, Delays and Determination

polar bear cafe sloth
Yeah, a nap would be good right now…

Day Job Stuff is keeping me on my toes, that’s for sure.  A few things have come up that I’m having to deal with in different ways.  (Yes, I’m being vague for the moment.)  A few personal things have been serving as distractions as well.  Nothing horrible, of course.  Just some irritations, decisions, and changes.

On top of that, I’m going to need to delay the release of In My Blue World.  I don’t want to, but I’d rather delay it than rush the job and put out a half-assed and ultimately unfinished novel.  I won’t do that to y’all, it wouldn’t be fair.  So for all of you who might have picked up my freebie card at Worldcon with the lovely ‘Coming Autumn 2018’ sticker slapped on the back, I’m afraid it’s probably looking more like ‘Coming Early 2019’ instead.  Sorry about that.  But I promise you won’t be let down by the improved and revised version!

Which brings me to determination:  I’ve got a LOT on my plate right now, and strangely enough, I work really well when that happens, as long as I’m completely in charge of it all.  [If I’m constantly distracted by unexpected changes, that’s another thing entirely.]  So a lot of things juggling in the air, but I’m bound and determined to make it all work.  Such is the life of a writer: stubborn will and determination to keep going despite the odds.

Hopefully in a few weeks things will be back to normal and I’ll be able to breathe and take a break again…!

 

More On Being a Healthy Writer

polar bear cafe exercise

I’ve said this before:  one of the biggest problems with being a writer, especially one with a Day Job, is that you’re sitting on your butt for long stretches of time.  I’m really horrible at this, to be honest.  I might get up and stretch now and again, but I don’t do it nearly enough.  I’m sitting for most of eight hours, perhaps head to the gym a few times a week, and then sit for another few hours in the evening writing.

There’s also the fact that I’ve long had a bad habit of snacking whilst working and writing.  I’d like to say I don’t have a Junk Food Stash anymore, but that’s not exactly true… it’s smaller, but it’s still junk food, and it’s in the kitchen.  A few boxes of Pocky, an almost empty bag of chocolates we bought at the Heathrow duty-free.  I’m trying to change that up; I’ll have a banana, or some cheese sticks, or hummus and crackers (Trader Joe’s sells a great snack pack of these that I love).  I’m not drinking nearly as much soda as previous.

But it’s not enough.  I’m not moving around as much to burn those calories.  What I need to do is figure out some regimen that I can sneak in at some point during the day.  A few reps of crunches and stretches.  More walks after work.  More frequent trips to the Y.  I need to MOVE more is what I’m saying here.

So why the health kick all of a sudden?  Well, short version is that I’ve found myself on a lifestyle-change kick right now.  A need to change things both inside and out that I’ve either ignored or put off for far too long.  It really doesn’t have much to do with my age, to be honest — I’m forty-seven and change — but to do with personal things; career, emotions, physical issues, and what not.  I’m reasonably healthy if a bit overweight with slightly high blood pressure.  I’m also thinking more seriously about my calling as a writer, and what I want — and need — to do with my craft as a professional.  Among other things.  I think about it this way: it’s not a midlife crisis so much as it’s a midlife clarity.  Time to shed the bad habits and the lifestyle I no longer want or need and get movin’.

This does in fact tie in with my writing.  Over the last few months, while working on the revision for In My Blue World as well as writing the Apartment Complex story — as well as a few smaller personal things I’ve been sneaking in when I can — I realized that my writing can’t truly evolve if I don’t evolve somehow.  I’ve mined as much as I can from what I’ve been working with for years, and I want and need to change it up.  The AC in particular has been helpful here; it’s the first story where I did not hold back for any reason, and the result so far has been eye-opening on many levels.  I’m immensely proud of what I’ve done with it so far, and I can’t wait to share it.

So yes — this is me saying that I need to keep moving, both physically and mentally, if I’m going to get anywhere.  I can’t be half-arsed about it anymore.

All in.

Post-Vacation Exhaustion

that thing you do where was i

Note to Worldcon newcomers who typed in the URL from my freebie cards:  Hi there, and thanks for your interest!  I talk about writing a lot on this here blog, so if you have any questions on that sort of thing, by all means feel free to ask.

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Note to self: even with the best of intentions, heading out to a major convention fifty-plus miles away the day after a ten-hour flight back from London isn’t the best of ideas, no matter how you slice it.  We have been moving almost nonstop in one way or another for the last sixteen days.  Lesson learned.

We’d decided to take Sunday and Monday off from everything and just relax and catch up on what needs catching up, that way we’re somewhat conscious and rested come Tuesday when it’s back to the Day Job.  We’ve been on vacation for almost the entire month, having flown out of SFO on the 4th and joining the working world again tomorrow.  It’s only two weeks and an extra day, but it feels so much longer than that.

While I didn’t get any new words done on any projects at 750Words, I did do a hell of a lot of reading of both In My Blue World and the Apartment Complex story (as you see from the previous fly-by posts).  I focused most of my attention on the former since it’s first in the release queue, and worked my way up to about the first third of the novel.  I’ll keep this up until the run is complete and then jump in on the Big Honking Revision Process.

Which brings me to the following: I’ve noticed that my revision process has definitely changed over the past five or so years.  I’ve taught myself newer and quicker techniques, discarded my bad habit of flailing the story into shape, and paid a lot more attention to the details.  I’m sure I still have a long way to go, but I’m definitely getting there.

That said, I’ll be back to normal on Friday with more writing insights — I gave myself some time to think about new and different subjects to blog about here, and I hope you’ll enjoy the entries when I post them!

Vacation fly-by: More revision notes

I’m still going through In My Blue World and making notes on what needs fixing. There are two MAJOR fixes to be made: one, that I need to change the POV to omniscient 3rd person, and two, that a number of sequences need to be pasted together. It’ll be a big undertaking that I won’t be able to start for another week or so, which of course is making me twitchy.

On the plus side, the story itself is solid — it’s tight and there aren’t that many holes and continuity issues I need to fix. It’s only the prose (and the first chapter or so) that needs cleaning up. And the cover is already done! I’m still aiming for an October/November release at this time. *crosses fingers*

So…what about the Apartment Complex story? Good question. I’ll still be working on that when I can and take my time, as I purposely haven’t assigned a drop date for it. [There is also the cover art issue, but that’s another post entirely.].

Okay! Back to work…

Working vacation: editing notes

Aah fudge. In My Blue World is gonna need a lot of work after all, isn’t it?

Well– maybe, maybe not. My opening chapters are always a hot mess. It’s definitely going to need a lot of TLC. From what I’ve seen up to about 3/4 through, it gets much better as it goes along.

Also: it’s stupidly HOT here in London. Thankfully our room has great AC!

Fly-By: two novels, finish my blueprint, begin my beguine

nowhere man typing

Yeah, I know, I used that subject line about this time last year.  I have a good reason, though — I’ve been quite busy this past weekend, attempting to get In My Blue World revised, create the freebie postcards for it (and get them ordered), and also go see Yellow Submarine at the Castro Theater!  I couldn’t pass up seeing one of my favorite movies from my childhood at a local theater I’ve been wanting to go to for ages.

On the plus side, I’m still relatively on schedule with this novel, which makes me happy.

Oh — and I may be making some pre-writing notes for a future Mendaihu Universe story that I will most likely start writing later in the year.  As if I don’t have enough to do right now…

See you on Friday!  🙂

On Writing: Names

When I’m creating a character, the last thing I think about is what I should name them. More often than not, I’ll do the least amount of work possible to give them one.  Instead, I’ll just give them the first one that comes to mind that sounds good and fits the person to some degree.  If it needs changing, that’s what Find & Replace is for!

For example:  I’ve mentioned before that I came up with the characters of Caren Johnson and Alec Poe for the Bridgetown Trilogy rather simply: for Caren I wanted a name that purposely didn’t pop out, much like her avoidance of being the focus of attention; for Poe I wanted him to have a slightly awkward name that he felt didn’t quite fit him, to match his being adopted and not knowing his true origins.  That’s about as far as I went with them, and that process took all of a few minutes.

In my latest projects, I did pretty much the same thing.  For Zuzannah, the magical girl from In My Blue World, I wanted a name that was normal but had evolved over the course of time.  The three sisters, Diana, Katie and Allie Meeks, are just three girls you know in your home town; no one special, just neighbors or friends.  There’s only one character in this particular story that has an unconventional, obviously made-up name, and that’s done on purpose.  Even with the Apartment Complex story, where I’ve had to invent a lot of the names, I kept them relatively simple.  Kaffi, the tintrite co-lead, has a simple, fun name to mirror his friendly demeanor, while his father Graymar has one that commands respect and attention.

I’ve never really gotten into the habit of coming up with names that have to mean anything; I always felt that process, at least for me, was trying too hard.  I always create characters that you’d meet on the street or hear about from someone, so I find I can’t go out of my way to come up with a name that means ‘faithful healer’ or something like that.  [Mind you, I only did that once in the Apartment Complex story; I chose Diwa’s Filipino name for two reasons: I wanted a gender-neutral name, and it means ‘awareness.’  But the choice for meaning was only secondary here.]

Think about what kind of character this is, and also think about the people around them, how they react to people.  Especially if it’s a made-up alien name — you can have fun with that by giving them a bit of background in the process.  Diwa and Kaffi’s friend Anna-Nassi, for instance, is part of an alien race whose names combine the culture of their own and of humans as a symbol of planetary community.

When you’re coming up with names for your characters, especially during rough drafts, I’d say go right ahead and put in a placeholder if you’re not entirely happy with it.  Diwa’s name was originally the made-up Riksah before I decided to give him a proper one and decided his family is half Pinoy.  If your character merits a symbolic or metaphorical name instead, that’s fine too.

The most important things to remember here, though, is that a) it should fit the character, and b) it should fit the story.  It’s not just about avoiding anachronisms, it’s also about avoiding words that will stick out like a sore thumb.  You probably wouldn’t want to write a serious romance novel where the strikingly sexy chisel-chinned male lead’s name is Petey Bumblewiggins, right?  As they say, you want a name that fits the character.  How much work you put into that is totally up to you, but it doesn’t always have to be that much work if you don’t want it to be.  Just give it enough for it to work for you and for the story.

 

On Self-Publishing: Creating Book Covers

050418 shutterstock outtake 1
Picture credit: Shutterstock/Jose AS Reyes.

I’ve said it before, I love doing covers for my books.  It’s another creative avenue that I get to play around in that I don’t otherwise have much time for.   Every now and again I’ll go through my own pictures and create one just for practice.  [I’ve even come up with a few pseudonyms for certain styles; for instance, all my fake mystery novels are all written by Chase Johnson, and my fake lit-fic and women’s fiction is by Joanna Chase.  Why? Because it’s fun!]

I’m still sticking with the above image for In My Blue World, so if I’m going to use it, all I need to do is purchase the rights from Shutterstock, fiddle around with it a bit, slap the title and by-line on it, and call it done.  I still use Adobe Photoshop to crop it to the right size and adjust the image.  (I’m probably going to lighten it a bit so the title and by-line will pop out more.)  And I still use the PicMonkey website for the text.  Sometimes it takes a short amount of time, sometimes it’ll take a few days before I get it to how I like it.

One thing I’ve learned from doing covers — aside from enjoying the process immensely — is that I should always make sure the cover ties in with the novel in a specific and important way.  It’s not enough to get a badass lady with a katana on the cover…there has to be a reason for it.  In this case, I chose this cover for a few reasons:

–The first half of the novel takes place in forest land.
–I didn’t want the girl to be in an Attack Mode pose, but an I’m Ready for This pose.
–I didn’t want her clothes to be stereotypically frilly or flashy (or steampunk or goth, for that matter).
–I wanted there to be at least some hint of blue sky in the background.
–It needed to have a decent amount of space for the title; in this particular instance, I like how the text not only balances it out, it intermingles with it.

This is also why I used the cover for Meet the Lidwells! that I did; it was a straightforward concert poster-stapled-to-lightpost image that is pretty much universal for any band starting out.  They say that the cover often pre-sells the book, especially if it’s eye-catching enough from across the sales floor (or legible in thumbnail online, for that matter).  Don’t think of that as needing a flashy action shot, or a crafty written-in-chalk image.  Look at other covers you thought were innovative or creative.  Look at the ones that made you stop and pay attention to it; then look at the cover as you would a piece of art…why did it make you stop?  And how can you use that on your own covers?

Just like my writing, my cover art has changed and evolved and advanced, little by little.  The more I practice, the more fake covers I make, the bigger my portfolio that I can use later on if I so choose.  And I would like to expand on it as well; for the Apartment Complex story I’m thinking about commissioning an artist — specifically a webcomic artist.  I already have a few images in my head that could work.  I’d still do the text, but I’d like a unique image this time out.

I know there’s a lot of self-publishing advice out there stating that you should never do your own cover, but I’d probably amend that: don’t do it if you don’t want to do it, or if you don’t have the ability.  On the other hand, if you have the artistic chops?  Go for it!  It’s a hell of a lot of fun and you can get really creative with it.