NaNoWriMo Update Part 2

Tonight is the night! Wrimo’s in my area are going to collect our laptops, bring along some notebooks and start chipping away at the novel of the month. It’s my fourth year participating in this international challenge and I’m stoked! I can’t say I have much of a plot or story lined out, and I don’t know if I’ll manage to finish it (I want to but you know, you fail at achieving a thing for several years in a row and your confidence starts to waver) but this year FEELS DIFFERENT.

-I have no school responsibilities to interfere with my writing time

-I don’t have a job that works me late like years previous

-My travelling will be low this year

-I’ve got more practice at a daily writing habit than ever before.

All these factors make me feel very confident. For the rest of November, I’ll be posting word count updates on the blog, though sometimes it will just be a note at the end if the post for that day is non-NaNoWriMo related.

If you want to add me as a writing buddy on the site, shoot over a comment or email with your information and we can trade names. I’ll be on it at least once a day during the month of November to update word counts. Good luck to everyone and happy writing!

NaNoWriMo Update 1: Meet and Greet

Last night I, along with several other local writers met at Java Werks, a local coffee shop and got ready for this year’s NaNoWriMo.

If you have anyone near you in meat space who is participating in NaNoWriMo, this community is a fantastic way to get ready for next month’s challenge.

While we were all situating ourselves at the coffee shop I was struck by how different we all were. We had entrepreneurs, single mothers, retail workers, academics, as well as writers representing the medical field. It’s amazing how writing will bring such fascinating and driven people together.

I heard about Horror novels, a few YA novels, a graphics novel as well as rebels who are trying to finish short stories and extended school assignments. This year is going to be different for me. I’ve got a plan, I’ve got a group and I’ve got gumption (and alliteration.)

I’m stoked for the NaNo! It’s not too late to join!

 

Sad Endings versus Happy Endings

Behind ever writer, there is a reader. These readers are devoted, hopeful, and imaginative. Not all readers are writers, but I don’t believe there are any writers who aren’t also readers. When you read, you start off small. Picture books, Dr. Suess, Religious studies appropriate to your age and you move up. Perhaps through your library or parents or other relatives. I found books through all these venues, as well as neighbors and friends. Then, there are the books you read in school.

I remember, to the minute, where I was when I first read Where the Red Fern Grows. On one of my twin beds, sitting against the wall, curled around Mr. Bear.

I was ten and it was the FIRST TIME a teacher had ever let us bring a reading book home. It was a new paperback, which I rarely got. Before Where the Red Fern Grows, most of my books were library books. I read at least 2 a day at that age so there was no sane way to keep me in reading material without the library. I remember how excited I was to finally start reading with a group. Reading was a very solitary activity, something I did when I was home. I’d sit quietly for hours, absorbed in these other places and around other people. All my stories had happy endings. The princess found the prince. The scared and shy girl found her friends. The boxcar children got an uncle, Nancy solved the case, Sparhawk the paladin knight saved the kingdom, Bilbo helped slay the dragon, and the monster was always slain. I almost never talked about these books with other people. And if you counted what we read in class, it was usually some excerpt from a bigger book. (I made it a habit to try and hunt down the bigger book in the library and read it. Excepts were for babies.) Finally, here I was, a REAL grown up person because I got to take home my own book and read it.

We were only suppose to read a few chapters a week. The book was meant to last the whole 9 week grading period for my teacher’s curriculum. The monday that it had been handed out, I went straight home, ignored my math homework, and read it all the way through.

I was excited for the hero as he saved up all his money and with such care and work, ordered his two coon hounds. I ran with him through the woods as he trained and fed them. In my head, I pictured Baxtor and Ginger, my grandmother’s dogs, who resembled the dogs in the story. I was so excited when he’d gotten to the hunting competition.

And then….

Well. Let’s be honest. You never trust a school assignment with an animal on the cover.

Because of course, those dogs died. And it wasn’t like Old Yeller, which I’d seen as a child on Disney where the dog is shot in the end and there is sweeping music and a crying actor. This wasn’t ANYTHING like that for me. Old Yeller was, Duh, an actor dog. My nine-year old brain didn’t connect the clearly fictional movie death of Old Yeller to anything like the anguish I felt when Billy loses Big Dan and Little Ann.

I went to my teacher the next day, threw the book on her desk and told her that it was the worst book I’d ever read. She was startled that I’d already finished reading it and asked me not to spoil the horrible-no-good-extremely-terrible ending for any of my classmates.

I sulkily agreed and then spent the rest of the period that we had to read the book with library books instead.

I went through middle school and high school with a dull anger towards these sorts of endings. I endured The OutsidersDeath of a Salesman, The Crucible and of course Romeo and Juliet. These works were rife with sad endings. I began to hate the reading that I was assigned in school. Everything I’d been taught was based around sorrow, loss and death. In Of Mice and Men, when George mercy-kills Lennie, I was so tired of school literature that I made it a habit to sparknote anything I read just to check for the ending before I had to read it. I’d still read the book, but only after I’d prepared myself for the end.

And then, thank goodness, there was college.

Now, college is also full of sad endings in a book. But unlike high school where all you do is talk conflict, theme and

Deadlines and Why they give me life

I am a professional procrastinator.

Well, I would be a professional but I keep putting off applying for the business license.

It all started in grade school when I would put off a ‘hard’ homework assignment in favor of finishing a coveted book. I hated that I did it, hated that I would put all this stress on ‘The Thing’ whatever it was. Usually ‘The Thing’ wasn’t just something that was tedious or time consuming, but something that I’d built up in my head as being difficult, when had I just sat down to do it, it would have been handled.

This evolved into a skill that I didn’t realize I needed: The ability to get hard things done in a short amount of time because I had no other option.

I mean, sure, I could have just NOT done the thing at all…but multiple punishments and consequences of not doing ‘The Thing’ made that option not just unpleasant but in some cases, unbearable.

Procrastination stems, I have come to figure out, from a deep seated need to be perfect in what we do. I tell myself all the time, “I can’t write that next scene because I haven’t figured out what happens next!” or “Well, Work In Progress number 3 needs to be done…but I’ve got a month before I have to submit anything to that place, so I’ve got time to do it.”

The answer to my bad habit? Self-inflicted deadlines with dire and horrendous consequences.

Don’t want to finish your rough draft for the Writers of the Future contest? Hmm. You’ve got until Sunday or no Walking Dead for you.

Won’t put your words in on this project this week? If you can’t get them done by Friday, I don’t really think you NEED those ice cream cones this time around.

Oh! Did a new Asimov Magazine come out? Oh…but you didn’t finish your second round of edits on the work in progress? Shame. You’d better get that story combed or your husband is locking away your eReader.

When I was in college, my projects were finished at a much higher percentage than when I graduated. I had DEADLINES. And knowing that something only had x amount of days to be completed gave me motivation and drive. When I work on a story for a contest, I do use all the days I have available, and maybe my submission slide in underneath the lowering door of that time limit, but it doesn’t matter. As long as they are SUBMITTED, I’m not going to worry that I only had 1 hour to get them done. They are finished and that’s the victory.

Now, as I mentioned, the procrastination hasn’t gone away. I still put things off. But giving myself a deadline for each step along the path gives me time to still get something done without giving up all together.

NaNoWriMo 2014

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Well it’s that time of year again!

For the fourth year in a row, I am going to attempt NaNoWriMo.

In 2011 I tried and gave up.

In 2012 I tried and gave up.

In 2013 I threw my hands up in the air and said, “NOPE” due to my discouragement with my failures from years past. In fact, that lack of ability to even want to try lead to a four month long dry spell in writing. I had a crisis about it in January and tried to get back on the writing horse with very little success until in March, my friends and I started a March Madness Word War that has turned into a monthly pool where we toss in 10$ giftcards to a winner.

This is the year. I will not let NaNoWriMo go one more year past without a full manuscript.

So here it is dearlings, my challenge: 50,000 words in 30 days. That’s 1667 words a day and hopefully a complete or nearly-complete manuscript. If you send me an email we can become writing buddies. I am cheering everyone on in the month of November and will be posting periodic word updates during the month along with thoughts and musings about the process.

Happy writing!

Keeping your stories fresh.

Are there any original ideas?

Short answer: No.

Long answer? Well, of course there are.

Idea and stories…motifs and themes, they are everywhere. Yet we all are still talking about them. And each generation and group of people have something that they need to say that is different than their ancestors. And themes, while universal, still adapt and grow.

For example: Fairytales.

How many times have you heard of a girl who has a wicked stepparent who gives her inheritance to interlopers? The girl uses her connections to get her fairy godmother to hook her up with a great dress then she goes and catches the eye of the prince at the ball, thereby escaping her situation and getting the happily ever after.

Yet how many Cinderella movies have been made in the last 10 years? I can think of five off the top of my head. All were the same. Girl’s life sucks. Girl meets godmother. Godmother blesses girl. Girl gets boy.

Even though that idea, the concept of the magical salvation and happy ending is old, we still are seeing new inventions on it. How amazing is that? Is the idea original? Nope. But are the stories enjoyable? Hell yes.

Let’s take two opposite tales: The Phoenix and the Ashes by Mercedes Lackey and Cinder by Marissa Meyer and do some comparing.

In The Phoenix and the Ashes, Eleanor’s evil stepmother is a dark witch who traps her in her home so that she can continue to use her fortune to fund her daughters. The setting is WWI and we get to know the Prince and see not only the two of them interact and grow together but also get to watch Eleanor become a powerful magician in her own right, breaking her own spell against her horrible stepmother.

In Cinder, we have a Cinder, a cyborg missing a foot who falls in love with the Prince when she fixes his robot. Her stepmother isn’t a magical witch but the hatred and loathing is still real. Cinder is based in a futuristic society with space travel and horrific diseases.

Both stories are Cinderella…but they each have their own unique twists.

And that twist, that change of perspective is all the originality that  you need to tell a new story.

Writing for an Audience

I went to Dragon*Con in 2011 and met my hero and literary idol, Mercedes Lackey.

Well. As well as you can ‘meet’ someone who signs your book and helps you take a selfie. I remember the first time I saw her. She was in a “Women of Science Fiction” panel with Laurell K. Hamilton, Sherrilyn Kenyon and several other lovely ladies whose names just aren’t coming to my mind right now. She was on the end of the panel and had been invited to introduce herself and tell about what she wrote. She leaned forward and said, “Hello, my name is Mercedes and I write books.” Seeing as she has produced a podcast series, written numerous short stories, over a hundred novels and worked with some of the greatest spec fiction writers of my generation, I feel that she has a gift for the understatement.

She and the other talented writers were doing the usual things that writers do at these panels: They were giving advice and telling stories from their own experiences. I remember they spoke about different styles of writing, who works best in silence (Hamilton) and who needs a busy house (Kenyon). The normal things were asked: Where do you get your inspiration? and Do you have advice for new writers?

Mrs. Lackey’s words have resonated with me since.

Writers. Write. They don’t talk about writing. They put their ass in the chair and they put one word in front of the other and ignore the blinking middle finger on an empty document page.

It’s taken me years to really internalize that advice, ignore the distractions that come with school, jobs and life in general and make that time to put fingers to keyboard and let out the voices in my head in a coherent form. And writers do write, as I’ve repeated and will repeat multiple times on this platform. But once you get past the process of developing the habits and discipline to get those words on the page, you have to ask yourself, ‘Who am I writing for?’

The obvious answer is: I am writing for myself. After all, I’m the one who has to deal with the words that come out of my fingers. I’m the one who has to look at the pages of re-writes. I’m the one who has to delve into character backgrounds and decide who is going to shoot who when my protag finally uncovers his or her dangerous plot. So my next question is, “What do I like to read?”

I like to read romance, science fiction, folklore, fantasy and adventure stories. Since those are the stories I like to read, those are the stories I am going to write. In short, I’m writing for people like me, who enjoy the things I enjoy and want to hear about cool stuff in that area of study. Writers can be arrogant that way. We put our words out into the world and are in many ways searching for those who agree and want to share our heads. It’s why almost all the writers I know are so nice to their fans. It’s not a matter of simply appreciating the people who liked your book, but it’s also appreciating the people who are similar to you. Those readers who go into the work you put out and see themselves in it. When you write for an audience, write for yourself.

Friendly Fridays – Dellani Oakes

On this edition of Friendly Fridays, I’d like to introduce a longtime family friend, Dellani Oakes.

Oakes went to school with my parents back in the good, not-so-old days of their college years and has worked for the last few years in romance and science fiction. Settled in Flordia, she is a indie and small press publisher and has been writing full time since 2002.  Dellani has published five books and several short stories. Her newest novel, Conduct Unbecoming is a sequel to her Teague McMurtry series following The Ninja TattooToday she joins us from her blog over on http://dellanioakes.wordpress.com/.

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Thank you Dellani

April, thanks so much for inviting me. I’m delighted to be here.

AH: First off, let’s let the readers get to know you. What genre do you write in?

DO: I write mostly romance, though different permutations of the genre. I have an historical romance set in St. Augustine, Florida in 1739. I also have contemporary romantic suspense novels, a sci-fi (futuristic romance) series as well as a romantic suspense set in 1976.

AH: Will you tell us about your latest book?

DO: My latest book is called Conduct Unbecoming. It’s a contemporary romantic suspense set here in Florida. It’s a sequel to my novel, The Ninja Tattoo and features a few of the same characters, as well as adding new ones. A body turns up on the beach and Teague’s friend, Nadeya, is the prime suspect. Her best friend, and ex-girlfriend of Teague’s, asks him to find Nadeya and keep her safe.

AH: What was the inspiration behind your current novel?

DO: Several friends read and loved The Ninja Tattoo. One in particular simply adored the main character, Teague. She asked—more specifically, demanded—that I write another book with Teague. She wanted to be in it and she wanted to kiss him. I’d already toyed with the idea of doing another book with Teague and Vivica, so I did. Adding Aileen was easy. She’s a great character and I foresee her coming into other books in the future.

AH: Will you tell us about your writing process? Do you listen to music or have a specific place you like to write?

DO: I describe my writing process as well oiled chaos. I don’t have a set time to work, but snatch time throughout the day, to write and read through things. I also spend time preparing for my radio shows (I do 2 a month) and set up my blog pages and twitter feed.

AH: Music is a must when I write. I frequently use music to block out the sounds of the household. I often use it for inspiration, particularly if I am pacing a fight scene.

DO: My office used to be the north end of the dining room, but since our middle son moved, I took over his bedroom and made it my office. It’s pretty cluttered, but it’s comfy. It’s nice to be able to get away from the noise so I can concentrate on my writing.

AH: Now. For some fun questions:

Cats or Dogs?

DO: I love both, but I’m allergic to them both—especially cats. I like the independence of felines and the unyielding adoration of canines.

AH: What is your favorite thing that you’ve ever written.

DO: Oh, that’s a tough one. I love most of my books (others I just like a lot). Admittedly, I’m very fond of The Ninja Tattoo, but I also love Conduct Unbecoming. A lot of that is because I, too, adore Teague. He’s a very special guy. I also admire Vivica, who has her vulnerabilities, but steps up when she has to.

AH: What is your favorite class in DnD or other Fantasy based RPGs?

DO: Depends upon the game. I’ve always loved magic users, although I ran a dwarf warrior in one game. (He died horribly) When I played Ultima Online, a world wide online RPG, my favorite character was a bard. The bards could make monsters and animals fight or play music to keep things peaceful. Comes in handy on a dungeon dive. I still liked my spells, though. I really love hurling fireballs at things.

If it’s something like Cyberpunk, I’m gonna choose to play a solo. Since most of our games turn into firefights, I like to be able to defend myself.

AH: Which of your characters would most want to punish you for what you’ve done to them?

DO: Hard to say. I try not to torture them too much, but sometimes it’s inevitable. Probably Frank Atherton, in the novel Bad Fall, which I’ve been sharing on my blog. He’s shot at, brain washed, tortured, kidnapped, brain washed again and nearly freezes to death. I think he’d have quite a lot to say to me, were he to come alive. He’d have to thank me too, though. He gets to have some pretty hot love scenes with Marka.

AH: What is your least favorite word?

DO: If we put aside the vernacular, which we shall, my least favorite word is nice. It’s over used and sort of a wash out. It’s not like splendid or spectacular. Nice lies there taking up space when another, better word could be used instead.

I had a high school English teacher who said, “There are two words I never want you to use in this class. One is Nice, the other is Swell.” That has stuck with me all these years.

AH: And finally, what is your favorite book?

DO: Must I have but one? That’s like asking me what my favorite band is. If I were to choose the first book to really impact me, I would have to say Star Man’s Son by Andre Norton. I became a non-reader in third grade. I had a teacher and school librarian gang up on me, telling me I couldn’t possibly read a particular book on my own because it was too advanced. I read on a sixth grade level at that time. Nothing on grade level interested me at all.

My mother took me to the city library and introduced me to a friend of hers, who was head librarian. She took me to the young adult section and told me I could pick any book I wanted. I remembered Andre Norton’s name because my mother had met her. I plucked Star Man’s Son off the shelf and read it at least a dozen times. That book is one reason that I write sci-fi now.

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You can purchase Conduct Unbecoming, book 2 of the Teague McMurtry Mystery series HERE at Amazon and HERE at Smashwords.

Dellani also runs a radio show on Blog Talk Radio 2x a Month. Go check her out!

http://www.blogtalkradio.com/rrradio/2014/10/11/the-talented-delightful-dellani-oakes-joins-me-on-books-bards

The Importance of Being Beta’d

Recently I submitted a short story to the Writers of the Future contest. I poured over that bit of fiction for three months. I had my beta reader pour over it. I revised and edited then showed it to another beta reader. Then revised some more and then, I submitted it. Proud of myself for my submitting accomplishment, I then went and showed it to a friend who’d expressed interest in looking at it and her first comment was, “I really like it! Do you want me to point out the typos I found, or is someone else doing that for you?

Lesson: There is no such thing as too many beta readers.

I mean, sure, ok, maybe more than 10 people is a bit much, but less than? No. It can never hurt to have more eyes on your fiction.

Yes, you should have the ability to write something with complete sentences, and yes you should have a character in a setting with a conflict so that the reader has something to do, but before you can get to the point of HAVING a reader who spent money on your work, a writers needs someone to read their words and makes sure at A, they are good and B, that they didn’t leave in the entirety of your grocery list on accident or some other such nonsense.

I was first introduced to the concept of a beta reader when I got my start in writing by in fanfiction at the tender age of 11. I used to post my work to Fanfiction.net. (I believe that account has been deactivated and all my work taken down…but with the internet, one can never tell.) There used to be a column on the site that would give writers advice for improving their fictions. I didn’t recognize writing advice the first time I saw it, but the lesson of showing your work to someone before you put it up for the world to see has always resonated with me.

When I joined my first writing class, I was introduced to the very vital rule that Writing is Re-Writing. Before that class, I’d always felt a lot of frustration that nothing I put on paper came out the way I saw it in my head. I felt like I couldn’t show anyone my writing without being horribly embarrassed. There were exceptions of course. In high school I co-wrote a few stories with some friends via a swap-journal. We’d get a book and start writing out bits and pieces of a story and then hand it off when you were done with your part. Yet even that wasn’t true re-writing because we never edited or criticized what the other one was putting down.

That, dear fellows, is what a Beta-Reader is for.

First, you don’t want just anyone you meet to be a beta reader. If you are writing about sci-fi, perhaps your friend who hates sci-fi isn’t the best person to ask. Make sure that your reader is someone who is familiar with the subject that you are writing about and would be a good audience for the story you’re trying to tell. Find someone who is good at picking out errors and pointing them out. As someone to close read for unexpected scene shifts, head hopping and pacing problems. A beta reader can point out that you wrote that last passage as if your character had three arms and whether or not she remembered to actually use the same name for the type of mythical time keeping method you have in place for your fantasy world. Or if your murder suspect’s alibi changes between location moves.

A good beta reader will be blunt but kind. They will take your baby into their arms, lay it out on their exam table and using a steady hand, draw the dotted lines around where the incisions need to be made for a better version of your work. A beta reader does not tell you what to do. A beta reader does not re-write your words and change your novel without talking to you. They don’t share your work around to other people and they, above all things, do not tell you that it’s fine as is on the first pass.

These qualities can take a while to cultivate and find. For me, the best way to get a good beta was to become a beta. When I found out that one of my close friends was working on her writing, I immediately volunteered to look at her work. As I began to go through it and give her that needed extra opinion, we began to feel each other out, to realize where each other’s strengths and weaknesses are. Personally, I’ve been told that I’m a decent story-doctor when it comes to recognizing pacing issues. She is amazing at grammar. It all evens out to create a better product.

Finally, recognize that your beta reader probably should not be your life partner or parent. There needs to be some boundaries that exist and both those people are unlikely to give you the completely honest feedback you need to improve.

Good places to find Beta Readers:
-Online Writing forums

-Writers circles – Most writing circles offer critique. I know that I was in one for a few years where we emailed out what we were going to critique and you came and discussed it together.

-Social media – Follow people who read the types of books you do and make some friends. See if they will look over your work

-Online forums – There are several communities that spring up around areas of interest and here is a good area to hunt down readers who would be interested in what you’re working on.

-Writer’s blogs – A lot of writers (including myself) are usually interested in some sort of swap. I like to swap the first 500 words of a work in progress with people when I’m trying to nail an opening or hook.

Writing is Re-writing, friends. Don’t be afraid to change.

 

 

Trains of thought and how easily they derail

I can’t remember when I first heard the idiom, “Train of Thought” but it always makes me smile.

There, in my head, is this web of railroad track and on it are little carts with all of my subconscious feelings and musings rattling along, working their way through the nerves and zapping out my ideas, words and actions. This makes me think of my brain as a factory. Each thing I intake, whether it be a sight, a noise, someone’s body odor, a feel of velvet on my skit or the way the rain makes my hair frizz, it’s all there, waiting to be processed into my work.

The work is everything. Working can be the 10 minute writing exercises I do in the mornings, it’s the chapters I put into whatever Work-In-Progress in on the front burner and the plotting of stories that will be later projects, it doesn’t matter. There is my little idea train, absorbing the stimulus of the world, delivering it to the brain factory and loading up what I need for creation.

But then. There are Mondays.

I feel like Mondays were put on earth to give me a giant kick in the butt. They are the period of the weekend and the unwelcome beam of burning sunlight that scorches my poor eyes and chases away the happy sleep cobwebs that the fun-spiders of Saturdays and Sundays put into place. Mondays are the day that we all fit ourselves back into the corset of responsibility and go about life earning that precious income.

Mondays derail me. I wake up early, get into outside-appropriate garments and meet the public to do my job. Since I’m a word processor writer, I need Electricity. Electricity requires a place to access it so I need a house. I need water to wash myself so I don’t scare my computer. (Be nice to the computer. She is the all powerful holder of words). Then of course because I have fur and scale-babies, I need to be able to feed my snake and cat. Then after feeding the snake in cat I should probably be fed. Then clothes. And so-on.

Mondays are the switch on my brain-tracks that move the idea production in my head from the lovely warmth of plot, characterization and setting and switch it out with the heavy, dense and dry boards of Insurance, Payments and Claim work. It’s not even the location or the output that I am frustrated with. It’s the sad loss of the thing that I love, for those brief but exhausting hours every day.

In the end, I survive the Mondays, painful and agonizing beasts that they are. The train survives the track change and keeps on chugging, new ideas cooking in the brain factory to be found, once again, after work and on the weekends.