Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Blogest: A Very Merry Halloween

“What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow 
Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man,  
You cannot say, or guess, for you know only 
A heap of broken images, where the sun beats, 
And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief, 
And the dry stone no sound of water. Only 
There is shadow under this red rock
(Come in under the shadow of this red rock), 
And I will show you something different from either 
Your shadow at morning striding behind you 
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you; 
I will show you fear in a handful of dust.”
                                                                                    T.S. Eliot, The Waste Lands

“Let’s talk, you and I. Let’s talk about fear.
            The house is empty as I write this; a cold February rain is falling outside. It’s night. Sometimes when the wind blows the way it’s blowing now we lose the power, we lose the power. But for now it’s on, and so let’s talk very honestly about fear. Let’s talk very rationally about moving to the rim of madness…and perhaps over the edge.”
                                                                        Stephen King, Forward in Night Shift

For the Halloween blogfest, I thought I would talk to you about fear and wonder. I think there is an essence of emotion behind every genre. I think that is actually why books are grouped by genre…not just to make sure the Science Fiction and Fantasy cooties don’t get on the other books, but so readers can find a book based on what emotion they want to experience.

Even though I don’t write horror fiction, I still try to take a page from Stephan King’s book and capture that essence of emotion. This core emotion is different depending on your genre. For horror writers, it’s fear. When you read a book by Stephen King, he’s talking to you about fear. He’s showing you where it lives, and where to touch the body lying on the table. He’s showing you death.

When you read a book in fantasy, it’s about wonder. It might be cold wonder, or horrific wonder, or resigned wonder depending on the flavor of the book, but fantasy boils down to wonder. Look at THIS, Tolkien or Jim Butcher or George R. R. Martin tells you. See what new and different things we have here…let’s explore shall we? A fantasy author shows you where wonder lives. Depending on the subgenre, wonder might live in the sewer and quickly turn to dread, but fantasy is about trying to know the unknown. My favorite part about fantasy is when you get to the end you discover that are actually aspects you DO know about this unknown thing, and thus you have cyclically ended up in your own backyard.

My suggestion for you this Halloween is to try to identify what core emotion you are writing about, whether it’s the fear of horror or the wonder of fantasy, or the mystery of mystery. There must be some reason you’re writing. There must be some driving passion that is pushing you forward through the long nights and heartbreaking days. Writing is an obsession that most of us will pursue until the day we die, without any guarantee that we will ever get outside validation.

I personally believe that writers are simply born with the desire; that it’s part of who we are. Every day I spent on the Internet and read countless aspiring author blogs, marveling at how many of us there are, is proof enough for me. We’re writing because it’s what we do. It’s who we are. But I feel like you will be much happier and content with yourself as a writer if you have some thoughts and conversations with yourself about why you write what you write.

Be honest, because there’s no shame in writing any genre. When you’re figuring out why you’re drawn to steamy romance novels, shame should not enter into the equation. Plenty of strangers will try to make you feel weird for writing what you’re writing, whether it’s Young Adult, literary fiction, or fantasy, so make sure the Shame Train stops with them.

It is my belief that when you have a better understanding of your subconscious, you will have a better compass to guide you. Just like having a clear idea of where you stand on Right and Wrong and whether or not there’s a God gives you an easier time navigating the curve balls life throws you, I think having a clear idea of the figments of emotions you are pursuing gives you an easier time holding on. To your book, to your conviction that you will be published, to your certainty that you won’t run out of idea, that upon publication you won’t turn into the laughingstock of the entire world. If you have the idea that you’re writing to find fear, or because you’re in awe of the sky, or because injustice is burning within you, it will act as your compass through the book and your career.

Each book is written with different emotions in mind, but I think there’s an even more elusive concrete reason behind it all. The man behind the curtain, if you will. I think that there’s a reason behind my urge to write, a reason I am not entirely aware of. It’s always been there, so I can’t blame it on external events, even though my life has help shape me into who I am. I think at the core of every writer exists a reason behind your drive. We’re all driving towards something with no visible gain, no sure-fire benefit. We all must share some need in common that writing fulfills.

For me, the urge to write has something to do with the combination of the catharsis I feel when I express words on paper, and my incessant curiosity. I need to know why. It was my favorite question as a kid, and sometimes I feel like books are an elaborate form of asking: If this happened, under these circumstances, to this set of people, what would happen, and why?

Or maybe I am just chasing butterflies, and trying to know the unknowable. Ahh, the curse of a fantasy writer.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Bad Boys (Whatcha Gonna Do When They Come For You)

In case no one caught my pop culture reference in the title, I give you the Cops Theme Song (and now that song is stuck in your head. You're welcome.)

Today I would like to talk about a subject near and dear to my heart: bad boys.

As you wish.
Yes, I know. Guys seems to think all girls want are bad boys, and nice guys finish last and all that. But let's table the real life discussion in favor of fiction. Jessica Page Morrell has an awesome book that talks about the different flavors of antiheroes called Bullies, Bastards, and Bitches that you might consider picking up if you're really into antiheroes like I am. 

So here we go. The word(s) of the day is the moral spectrum. As writers, we might not think about our character in terms of their moral spectrum and where they might fall on it, but it's usually something we at least have a feel for. If you ask a writer if his character would kick puppies or steal money if he thought he would get away with it, they can usually come up with an answer of what each character would do. But usually in a book you have the main character and all the secondary characters existing within the same spot on the moral spectrum.

I think it's sad that more writers don't play around with their character's morals. It's a great way to provide contrast and conflict between your characters. Usually the main character's morals only vary slightly from what the writer themselves would and wouldn't do. So the characters all seem to fall in that gray area between willing to kill to protect themselves, but not willing to kick puppies and push little old ladies into the street.

Whether or not you spell it out on paper or not, you might consider writing a character that acts wildly outside of your personal code of ethics.

Bad boys don't exist just so rabid fangirls can write uncomfortable fan fiction about them (lampshaded in this funny comic). They can really add some spice to your book without taking the entire plot over. They come in two main varieties: Bad boys and Dark Knights.

Bad Boys: These are the sexy lone wolf-types. They are normally rebellious pleasure seekers who enjoys breaking the law more than a regular hero. They are almost always charismatic, and the sort of guy your mother doesn't want you to bring home. They are normally slightly mysterious, with a vague and shady past. They break too many rules and flout tradition too much to be considered regular heroes. Within each category you also have a range. So Han Solo comes to mind, at the very top of the Bad Boy moral spectrum, while most of Vin Diesel's characters are at the very low end of this spectrum.

Dark Heroes: These guys are dark and brooding. They have a core of rage and pain, and almost always have a tragic past.They often have their own moral code, that is usually not in line with society's current moral standards. They are often rude and prickly to the main characters, and are the lowest on the moral continuum. Which means if they take one more step down, they become villains. Batman is the titular example. Mr. Darcy from Pride and Prejudice fits this nicely, and in my opinion, if John McClane from the Die Hard movies was just a little less scrupulous with his bullets and explosives, he would descend into Dark Knight status. And if Prince Nuada from Hellboy II didn't want to kill all humans, he would be considered a Dark Knight. At the moment he's earned Tragic Villain status, so someone should tell his PR department to step up. 

Of course, these are generalizations, and there are no hard and fast rules. There's a lot of overlap, and like any category there are ways to break it. You don't want to make cardboard character regardless of where they fall on the moral spectrum. Bad Boys are a great way to shake up your plot and characters a bit, and a nice way to experiment with your writing. 

Oh, and for those of you wondering why I only talked about the guys, bad girls fall into different categories, because certain behavior is deemed more acceptable by society from a guy (i.e. sleeping around) than it is from a girl. So woman act in a different manner in order to gain "bad girl" status.

I have a secondary character in my WiP and he's definitely sitting in the Dark Knight camp. I am not sure I would want to know him in real life, but he's certainly shaking up the status quo between my more moral main characters. No matter how you cut it, conflict is fascinating, and nothing quite stirs the pot like a bad boy who refuses to toe the line.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The "Strong" Female Character

We need to talk about something, guys. Something I feel very strongly about. 

There's a plague spreading across the forums and the general community. It's been building for some time, but lately it seems like I can't go anywhere without someone mentioning the "Strong Female Character." As in, a certain author's lack of them. Or how well another author writes them.

Leather pants again?

This is a very sensitive subject, which doesn't actually surprise me. You would think when people talked about strong female characters it would be like talking about any other subject of literature--a strong story arc, or well written scenes, perhaps about setting, or stage direction if the media in question is a movie.

But nothing turns into a sexist gender role discussion quicker than the discussion of Strong Female Characters. It seems like a no-win situation. 

If you're a woman, and you don't write female characters are a bossy, independent woman who "doesn't need a man", doesn't wear dresses, and is generally "one of the guys" (only better) then suddenly you're setting woman's rights back. Heaven forbid you just, you know, write a female character without regards to her gender, and develop her as a person with traits and flaws just like any other character. 

If you're a man, you are also shafted. You can write male main characters all day, but the minute you enter a female character into the mix, she falls under scrutiny. Suddenly, female characters in the male author's books are a symbol of his own opinion of women. If a female character is sexy and self confident, the male author is sexualizing the character into a plaything. If a female character is sassy and headstrong, he's parodying woman who are independent, and God help you if this independent woman character ever gets married. See, the male author really thinks every woman just needs a man.

If she had a man, she'd be smiling even wider!
The aspect I find the most irritating about this entire "strong female character" debate, is these characters are ALWAYS strong in the SAME exact way. She's in charge of her own sexuality, she wears tight leather pants and carries a big gun, she's bitchy and smarts off constantly, and the hallmark trait: the strong female character can kick everyone else's butt.

Don't get me wrong; there's nothing wrong with this type of character. Buffy is the quintessential example, and I love her. I also love Whedon's other female characters, because he seems to grasp that not every female has to be a Warrior Princess to be strong. 

But it annoys me that the implication is we have to turn our woman into men with boobs in order for them to be considered strong. Any other female character is therefore weak. Your Suzy Homemaker types are a disgrace to their gender, and so are the Waifs, the Healers, and the Librarians. Because we all know people can only be strong at one thing, and that's kicking other people's butts and not having the good sense to keep their mouths shut when talking to some huge demon that could squash them like a bug.

My current WiP has two female characters, and while neither of them fit the Buffy-Anita Blake stereotype, I still consider them strong. One of the two characters is actually quite passive and painfully shy, but she knows who she is and she's willing to stand up for her beliefs. She knows what she's willing to die for, and she knows what's important to her. She's not sassy--she blushes when people talk to her. She couldn't fight her way out of a wet paper bag, but that doesn't make her a bad damsel in distress stereotype. And let me tell you, her growth arc is probably going to be more satisfying than my other female character, just because she's moving from a place of feeling helpless and weak, to where she can defend herself and protect what she cares about. 

Where is the "strong" female character's growth arc? It seems if you're going to keep her strong, you have no growth. She can't fall in love, or get pregnant or have a family because then she's playing into a gender role she's trying to shun. She can't be beaten by another person (God help you if it's a male character) because we've already established she's awesome at absolutely everything.  

Awesome at hiding and writing and BREAKING MY HEART
In short, if you're not careful, these so-called strong female characters turn into stereotypes themselves. And here's a secret: those strong female characters you see on TV are still weak and vulnerable. Buffy still had fears and doubts and insecurities because she is a well flesh out character.

Most stories are about a character moving from a place of weakness to a place of power. Every story arc has a power shift in it, and if you boil all acceptable female character types into one narrow focus, you're robbing yourself and others of amazing stories. 

And while I am talking about it, doesn't it defeat the purpose of writing a female character we females can look up to if you're forcing a character to act a certain way JUST because the character is a woman? If you say she MUST act this way to be considered a strong female, aren't you doing the same exact thing men did for hundreds of years prior, when they said woman were only good for making babies and cooking dinner? You're just changing the parameters for the stereotypes, that's all.

From now on, all strong women should be nuns. That will subvert the "married with children" stereotype nicely.
 I am not saying sexism doesn't exist. It does. It's there, we've all experienced it one way or another, men and women. If a man wrote a female character as stupid and slutty, there only for the male main character's needs, the author would be called sexist. So why isn't it just as sexist to say female characters can only be sassy, smart mouthed, butt-kicking, "I only wear pants and I wear them better than men" woman in order to be strong?

Wasn't Anne Frank strong? Wasn't Rosa Parks strong? What about Mother Teresa?

How about the titular character on Bones, Dr. Temperance Brennan? How about Olivia Benson from Law and Order: Special Victims Unit? What about Katara from Avatar: The Last Airbender (the show, not the movie. The movie is dead to me.) (for that matter, just about every girl character in that show is awesome, even the psychopathic arch-villainess)?

I am not saying girls don't need better role models than Paris Hilton and Ke$ha, and every other perfect white blond singer/actress on TV who's brainless and just there for the male characters to sleep with. I just don't think having only one role model type is the answer.

Can't we just develop characters and not force them to act a certain way because of their gender or race?

I meant to blog about this before, but Natalie Whipple's excellent post: Strong Female Characters reminded me. So go check out her insightful post as well.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Scary Stories to Scar You for Life

It’s almost Halloween, and in the spirit of one of my favorite holidays, I have signed up for the blog party going on at Book or Treat. It’s run in support of UNICEF which is a great cause! So click the link to the right ---------------------> 
and join the fun.

I was at Books a Million last night, killing time before work (pun absolutely intended) when the sight of a book made me jump.

This is what I saw:

 Until that moment, I had completely blocked these books from my mind, probably due to trauma.

Alvin Schwartz has gathered a collection of creepy urban legends in his books Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, and Scary Stories 3: More Tales to Chill Your Bones

Despite the target age of these books (9 and Up—as if!) I read these books when I was 13 and couldn’t sleep without the lights on for a week. The stories are creepy, and to completely push you over the edge if you’re not as much of a wimp as I am, are these horrific pictures I have thoughtfully scattered throughout my blog. 

The illustrations look like something that would crawl out of your nightmares (or a mirror!). Reading about a bride being stuck in a truck, dying, only to be found a year later, a hitching ghost, a man’s face melting off, and other such fun activities at the tender age of 13 and you’d be scarred for life too.

Despite my childhood trauma, I still want to own these books. I saw an updated version of the books in the store, but sadly they didn’t include the nightmare-inducing illustrations by Stephan Gammell. One of the best parts about these books is the stories give stage directions. So if you’re reading the story out loud over a campfire, one story might advise you: (now jump up and ran at your friends screaming).

It teaches you in painstaking detail how to scare the pants off your friends (or little brothers *cough cough*) What’s not to love…and be HORRIFIED by?

I just had a frightening thought…what if Stephan Gammell illustrated a Stephen King novel? One of his really creepy ones, like Pet Cemetery?

I don’t think I would ever, ever, ever sleep again. 

I think the worse part about stories like these is they get inside your head and won’t leave you alone. One day when I was about 15 I was sick with the flue, and spend the day reading urban legends on the Internet. In broad daylight. On the Internet. This was back in the Stone Ages, when we had dial up, and loading a page took forever.

I read a story about two college roommates.

One girl wanted to go to a party downstairs, but the other one wants to stay and study. So the girl packs her bags, and goes downstairs to the party.

She realizes in the middle of the night she forgot her toothbrush, and goes upstairs. Not wanting to bother her roommate, the girl walks into the bathroom in the dark, grabs her toothbrush, and leaves.

The next day she goes upstairs, to find the police swarming around the floor. Worried, she asks what’s going on, and one of the police officers tells her a girl’s been murdered. Horrified, the girl goes to her room, only to find police everywhere. She wanders the room in a daze, and walks into the bathroom.

Scrawled across the mirror in blood are the words, “Aren’t you glad you didn’t turn on the light?”

Uggggggghh that creeps me out. I mean, the killer was RIGHT THERE LOOKING AT HER.

Then I continue reading urban legends, and come across a particularly nasty one about Bloody Mary. This version asserts that if your mirror is possessed, then Blood Mary can reach out of the mirror and grab you when you walk past.

Pleasant, right?

So that night, I go to sleep. I’d had dinner and watched a movie, forgetting about my little afternoon of creepy fun.

Until I wake up in the dead of the night, needing to use the bathroom. I quickly counter the number of mirrors in my room—two. Not good, but they were on the far side of the room. I jumped out of bed, and ran down the hall to the bathroom. The bathroom had a huge mirror that ran the length of one wall, and I went to quickly turn the light on, least Bloody Mary catch me unaware, but then I stopped. I remembered the chilling line –Aren’t you glad you didn’t turn on the light?—and I froze from indecision. Either way I was doomed. I flicked the switch on, and was relieved I was alone.

And that is why to this day I am still afraid of mirrors in the dark.

And now you are too. You’re welcome. It’s okay though, we can be scared together.  

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Engine of Your Doom Hath Been Set Into Motion!

I am staring at the computer, thinking vainly of something to blog about. But as I am working hard my on WiP and work was particularly long today, it seems my brain has taken a hiatus. 

Therefore, I shall perform the ultimate fencing move, sure to produce a victory: the 11th Parry.

I give you a hilarious short play, written by the Rejectionist: The Saga of the Office Mouse
I was shouting, "The engine of your doom hath been set in motion!" all afternoon.

I give you a funny story in which a young girl quests for cake. It's amazing what she does with MS Paint: The God of Cake

Mia is having a blogfest on her blog that is appropriately Halloween themed! I plan to join the festivities, since I adore Halloween more than I probably should.

(P.S. Lo, I searched the Internet in vain. The 11th parry is when you use your friend to block the blow. I cannot find it on teh Internets, and cannot remember where my friends and I first heard it. So you'll have to do with an un-funny explanation here, instead of me directly linking to someone else defining it for me. I apologize for my FAIL.)

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Late to the Party

But I am still here, and that counts for something. Right? Right?

You can now follow me at Twitter at ElizabethJPoole. I wasn't planning on adding my middle initial, because I have been blogging as Elizabeth Poole, but that was already taken, and I couldn't fit WriterElizabethPoole. So I used the old standby and crammed my middle initial in there.

So there you have it. All I have to do is figure out how to make a Facebook Fan page, and force them to update all at the same time, and the trifecta will be complete.

But first I need to figure out how to work Twitter. Wish me luck!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Experiments and Doubts

So I am getting down to the wire on my WiP. I've decided to experiment in several ways with this novel, and although I'd like to say I am totally confident about these choices that's not exactly true.

Have you ever done that? Tried a new method of writing or preparing that made you a little squirmy? I'm open for experimentation. I am always trying to find better ways to hone my craft, to prep and write a novel. Sometimes the results are spectacular. Sometimes things go splat. I am hoping my latest experiments will be wildly successful, or at least not ruin the book, but again, I still feel nervous.

My first experiment will be in the form of an extended plot outline. I didn't think I would ever use one, but the need seems to call for it. I am trying plot out the events I have to know to make the novel work, but leave a lot of ground left to explore. Since the story's main driving plot is very close to a murder mystery, there are certain things I need to know ahead of time. Like how the two main characters collect evidence from immaterial objects, like ghosts. Fun, I know. 

So while I don't have who's going to live and die planned out to a T, and only a sketchy idea of how things are going to get solved, I still have to know how their methods work. Enter the extended plot outline. It's a really detailed plot outline, that lets you be as specific or vague as you want. So one chapter might read "Bast discovers dead body" another chapter that I have more ideas for might even have a piece of dialogue I thought of and don't want to forget. 

This will allow me to plan out the nitpicky details ahead of time, without ruining the fun of creativity. This doesn't mean I won't have to smooth things out in revision, but at least it gives me something to stand on. I also intend to plan the first few scenes out in great detail, and use only the broadest strokes for the middle and end. Just the scenes that have to be there to make the basic plot work. Then, after I write through the scenes I have planned out on notecards, I will then plan the middle, incorporating anything that has changed since the outlining stage. I've never plotting this way, but it sounds like an excellent way to have some stepping stones in the plot without having to incorporate your new elements completely in the first revision.

The other great experiment with this book is my POV choice, and the one that's making me extremely nervous.

It's going to be multiple first person point of view. 

First person is a bit of a change for me. I usually save first person for the books I know are only going to be from one character's perspective, and when I have an excellent feel for their character. I've never finished a novel in first person, but I have two half finished novels from first person, both with totally different voices.

When I started working on my WiP, I already had Bast's voice talking in my head, and she was definitely going to be from first person. When I added another main character, I didn't think much of it, because I also had an excellent feel for that character's voice. The characters are polar opposites and have different roles in the story. 

I realized that I would need a way to tell the reader that the POV has changed, because most people assume a book written in first person is from only one person's perspective.I considered my options.
I don't like naming the chapter after the POV character, because it feels a little...clunky. I usually don't name chapters anyway, because it can break the flow of the book. Don't get me wrong; I've seen both techniques used well, but I just didn't think either work for my book. I also decided that I would change POV with each chapter, and any scene break I wanted to do within the chapter would be indicated by *** marks.

When I went to the writing seminar at Dragon*Con, I asked the writers giving the seminar, Michael Stackpole and Aaron Allston, how you would make sure the reader knew who's head you were in without naming the chapter after the character. To my delight Michael Stackpole and Aaron Allston did not tell me I was a naive fool for trying to pull off this perspective. 

Instead, they advised me to make sure each voice was unique, so there was absolutely no doubt who was talking (Which is a good habit to get into, even when you're writing third person). I told them about my chapter plans, and they thought it was also a good idea, because eventually the reader would pick up on the fact that a chapter means I am changing character perspectives.  

That settled, I didn't think too much more about my POV choices until yesterday.

Yesterday I ran across a story about a guy who tried to get him multiple first person novel published, but couldn't because the publishers didn't like the POV. I read several other articles talking about badly used multiple first person. The general wisdom for multiple first person is don't do it. I know there have been books utilizing this perspective, but it's really hard to pull off. You have to make extra, extra sure that the character's voices really ARE unique and different. You have to make sure the characters are relaying a different view on the world to justify their having a POV at all.

You're supposed to do this with a POV character anyway. No matter if you're writing in third, first, single or multiple, you're supposed to make sure your POV characters each have something important to contribute to the story. You're supposed to make sure they all are unique and sound like real people. 

This doesn't always happen though, and never is it more obvious than multiple first person.  Now I wonder if I am kidding myself. I mean, I'm not even published yet. Should I wait until I have a few published novels under my belt before embarking on such an ambitious endeavor? If my POV choice bars me from getting published, it will feel like a waste, because that's something that can be fixed. 


If I can pull off the POV choice, I think it will rocks your socks. The events of the books are character driven, and very personal. Both characters are put into uncomfortable moral situations where they have to choose which is the lesser evil, and deal with the outcome of their actions. The character themselves are polar opposites.

I guess at the end of the day, I just need to make sure that the characters come across as unique and different. I have thought of this book as a multiple first person for so long, I have a hard time imagining it any other way. In order to make sure this really is the POV that will do my book the best service, I will rewrite a chapter from each character in third person, just to make sure. But I am still slightly nervous.

Have you ever had something like this happen to you? Where you thought you had things under control and then you read or hear something, and suddenly you're questioning your choices? How do you decide which is fear talking and what is good common sense? How did you decide what to do? Does anyone have any advice on multiple first person perspective? 

Thursday, October 14, 2010

A Neccessary Evil

Yesterday I had so much fun, and it wasn't even writing related. Weird, I know. I did something revolutionary, something I never do, and while I regret it later, it was fun at the time.

I watched The Grudge with my best friend Melissa and Joe (who is Melissa's boyfriend). It was his birthday this past Sunday and we celebrated it yesterday. I told Joe he was allowed to pick the movie we watched, yes even a horror movie. I normally stay away from horror movies like they carried the plague. Because I am a sissy and when I watch them I scream and jump, and usually have a nightmare or two afterward. I am just a little too imaginative for my own good sometimes.

But there's must be something seriously wrong with Melissa and Joe, for they LOVE horror movies. They've watched tons of them, and are considers "buffs" in the genre. They really don't discriminate either, and will watch something big budget or what they found in the dollar bin at the supermarket. 

So yesterday after apartment hunting (I am moving in about a month) I went over to their apartment and we cleaned up a bit, and got some Chinese food (YUM), and then settled in to play some Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock.

A brief digression into my nerdiness: Warriors of Rock is so unbelievably awesome. You can give your avatar red glowing eyes, and all kinds of rock paraphernalia. It's like the dark fantasy version of the game, complete with zombie make up. I managed to unlock myself a set of angel wings to compliment my red demon glowing eyes and Egyptian eye make up. I am still working on my succubus horns, but those are really high level, and I play infrequently at best. 

We had loads of fun, hopped up on strawberry cake with cream cheese frosting and Monster energy drinks, which curiously like alcohol, taste terrible the first few sips until you numb your taste buds. Then it was time for the movie. Joe picked out The Grudge, which Melissa hadn't even seen yet. We watched the remake, the one with Buffy in it. I know, I know. Purists would shoot me, because the Japenese original, named Ju-on, is supposed to be waaay scarier. Well, if that's the case, I don't think I could watch the original. The remake nearly killed me. By the end of the movie Melissa and I had shifted towards Joe until we were in a tiny clump of unbridled terror.

Thank you Wikimedia for setting the mood for this post.

Overall, there was something cathartic being that terrified for an hour an a half. Afterward I felt a giddy sense of euphoria. I just have to not think about the movie AT ALL if I ever want to sleep again. I think the concept of a hungry ghost is really cool, and I even have a few in my WIP so that helped keep my interest in the movie. I think sometimes watching a movie outside of my comfort zone is a necessary evil. Cathartic, at the least. The last outside of my comfort zone movie was We Were Soldiers, which had me balling my eyes out through half the movie.

Today I feel refreshed and energetic, ready to take on the world, or at least my plot outline. But that could be the leftover cake talking.

I would like to thank my new followers! Hi new followers! It's nice to still be acquiring followers. I've stayed between the 30-40 mark for a while now, and I wondered if my breath stank or something. But that's how blogs go, and I know a massive legion of followers will come in time. Just as soon as I learn how to make zombies...

Anyway! Have a great day everyone, and maybe try something new? Something you think you won't like. You never know how it will make you feel.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Nightmares and Dreamscapes

Last night was not very restful. I had a hard time falling asleep, and I woke up at three in the morning from a nightmare. It's vague and fuzzy now, but there was something about a guy who was possessing people and I had to stop him, and save the people he was hurting. There were spirits and demons involved. It doesn't sound like it (nightmare never do) but it was scary. I woke up, certain there was a demon in the room with me.

I got up to use the bathroom, and had to avoid the mirror. I have this weird thing with mirrors. Most of the time, I think nothing of them. They are just there. But after a nightmare I can't look at them, because I am afraid I will see someone standing behind me, or something will reach out and grab me. I NEVER played "Bloody Mary", even as a kid.

Because here's the thing: when you're a writer, you tell yourself stories. Even if you're writing literary fiction, you are still making stuff up. I write fantasy, so believing in what isn't real goes double for me. During the day, when I am rational, I know elves and fairies and ghosts and demons don't exist. At least, I sort of know that. I am willing to concede that there is a possibility there are things out there we don't know about, but I don't actively search for it.

But at three in the morning, when it's pitch black out and no one's awake? That certainty goes straight out the window. No matter what I tell myself as I lay there in bed, I still think there *might* be something under my bed that is going to reach up and grab my ankle. And no amount of rationale will change that.

I think this is a negative side effect to writing. Or being creative in general. I spend so much time thinking about people and events that are a product of my imagination, and believing in them, giving them words and weight, that sometimes after I just wake up, this flexibility in my suspension of disbelief turns out to be a hinderance.

As a result, I am sooooo tired today. The thought of going to work makes me tired. I have a list of things I need to do, and I am doing them, but S-L-O-W-L-Y. I was hoping to be extra productive today, but things aren't looking so great. Unless of course I add to my list of things to do. For example, I already took a shower today. Check. Ate breakfast. Check. Wrote a blog post. Check. Go to work. Check soon enough. I guess if I extend my creativity further, I could add even more things to my list of things to do. Breathe. Check. Brush hair. Check. Get dressed. Check. Read other people's blogs. Check. 

See?! I am feeling more productive already! I guess it's time to do what I actually need to do--work on my notecard outline--though. I am getting so close to being ready, that it's tantalizing me. But yesterday I made chicken pot pie for my parents from scratch. They loved it, but it took longer than I thought it would. 

Hey, I can add to my list! Make dinner for parents; have enough for leftovers today. Check.

What do you guys do when you have bad dreams? Am I the only one who think is has to do with being creative?

Monday, October 11, 2010

Monday Update: Where do you get your inspiration?

One of the most frustrating thing for writers is anything having do to with inspiration. Whether it's for a completely new book idea, a character, or the solution to your plot problem, inspiration doesn't come by flipping a switch. And if it did, I think it's safe to say we would be flicking that switch ALL DAY LONG.

It's almost a little frightening if you really think about it. Your entire writing career depends on you getting good, usable ideas on a regular basis. You can force a plot, setting, and characters together, but many of us forget just how much inspiration plays a part into meshing the various elements of your book together. Your working on your character, and you suddenly decide she does pottery, and then you move on. It's not a big sudden "OH MY GOODNESS WHAT IF I DID THAT?" moment like I had last week, but it still fleshes out your character in your own mind, as well as the reader.

You can't force these moments of inspiration, big or small, but you can make conditions suitable for inspiration to want to come and play. These conditions vary from writer to writer, and they sadly do not usually include laying around doing nothing. You will occasionally be struck by brilliance while you're thinking about getting your oil changed, but this doesn't happen that often, at least for me. And it usually follows a session where I was actively brainstorming.

Most of the time inspirtation comes when you go after it with a big stick. If you sit around all day waiting to have ideas, the chances of this happening are very slim. If instead you engage in activities that you find interesting and stimulating, the chances of coming up with what you need increase. And even if you don't have an idea, you still got work done on your novel so that's hardly time wasted, right?

Some ideal conditions might include any number and combination of the following: chocolate, reading a good book, watch a well written TV program, caffeine, talking to a friend, talking to your pet, staring out the window watching the birds, nightmares, music, arguing with a friend, looking at artwork, reading a bad book, working on your novel, dreams, watching an awful TV program, reading the newspaper, taking a walk, swimming, repealing a zombie invasion, and reading one of those Pocket muse books that people rave about, but never seem to do a thing for me.

The crux of the matter is what make your brain tickle with joy will not always make another person's brain tickle with joy. For me, music has always been a reliable source of inspiration, but I know there are plenty of people out there that find it wildly distracting.

I think it would behoove writers to not only keep track of the ideas that come from these sudden brilliant brainstorms, but what they were doing in the first place. It won't work every time, but it certainly doesn't hurt to know what conditions are favorable for your Muse.

There are also the epiphanies that come when you're not looking for one. Last Wednesday I had an amazing epiphany that made my novel so much cooler, and I wasn't even worried about that area of my plot. Actually, I thought I had that part all squared away. But the combination of listening to a new CD by Kamelot, and browsing through some fantasy artwork was enough to send fireworks off in my brain. That high of "OH MY GOODNESS I JUST HAD THE BESTEST IDEA EVAR!" is one of the reasons why I will always be a writer. It's just too much fun to ever stop. And it's legal. ;)

Here are the two songs in particular, in case anyone is curious (Each part is broken into one separate track on the CD, but this Youtube video conveniently puts them all together): Kamelot--Poetry for the Posioned Pt I, II, III, IV

And here is the picture, to support the artist and show you what I mean: Phantom Link by Kirsi Salonen

I took one look at that picture and wanted to know the reason why he has skeleton pets, and I wanted a reason that didn't involve him being evil or a necromancer. 

I got my answer, and the soul of my book.

How do you guys get ideas? Any tricks up your sleeves? What is one of the best "OMG!" moments you've had? 

Friday, October 8, 2010

Oh Happy Day

Some days it's crappy being a writer. You can't get the words right, or to come out at all. You can't figure out how to make your plot work, and every idea you have feels trite and tired. You think maybe being a postman or a chocolate quality control worker must surely be a better way to go about your life.

That is not this day, in the immortal words of Aragorn.

These past few days are the sort that remind me why I am a writer, why I have always wanted to BE a writer even as a small child (after I gave up my dream of being a doctor-nurse-dentist). I had an idea, a simple "What if this character switched places with that character?", that totally changed my WIP.

Five front and back handwritten pages later, and my WIP has become more awesome than even I thought possible. Just one little question, and I managed to work in several elements that I never thought I would be able to work into a book, and an idea I discarded early on in the development process as "not going to work this time".  The excellent news is my WIP has not really changed from what I had before, it's just deeper now.

I realized that as a writer you need to question everything. Readers are going to make assumptions about your novel, and that's okay. Heck, it's necessary, and allows you to make some cool twists based on these assumptions. But you are the writer and can't assume anything. Just because your idea has X, Y, and Z going on doesn't mean it's in your better interest to accept that at face value. Either during the development process or after you're done with the first draft, check your novel for any assumptions you may have made. 

Because you might have some really awesome ideas lurking beneath the surface.

Happy Friday everyone, and have a great weekend.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

PSA: Character Chemistry

This post shall be brief, because I would like to get back to my authorial duties of working on my WIP. I thought I would share some awesome gems I've recently turned up during the course of the past few days.

*Don't be afraid to play around with your cast of characters.

I don't know about you, but most of the time my cast of characters arrive in the story intact. It's usually because I have an idea for characters in a certain situation first, and from there the story spins out. In the case of my current WIP however, the characters have evolved and changed, as the story idea revolved and changed. At first, this was very scary. I didn't have a good handle on the characters, which is new for me. But as I pushed deeper and harder when developing my characters, wonderful things have happened.

Namely, I struck the right combination of characters yesterday and the plot is sizzling from it. This should be a test: if your plot is not creating sparks between the events and the characters, you should consider changing some things up. Most of the time you don't need a drastic change either, just some fine tuning of back story, motivation, and personality traits. My characters are mostly the same as they were last week, but now they are MORE.

*Don't be afraid to let your story morph as you develop and write it.

Again, it's a little scary when you're writing and things start to slide sideways. You don't quite know how it happened, but one minute you're writing lighthearted crime fiction, and the next minute the story has taken a side step into deeper paranormal something. This is generally a good thing. You want your story to develop and grow, first while you're building the world and plot, and then as you're writing it. Trust me, this organic chemestry can make or break your story. 

The trick here is to weed out the directions that are totally different from what you're writing. If you're writing a comedy of manners, and suddenly a brutal double homicide subplot shows up, chances are this new thread isn't going to fit. You need to recognize the twists that come from inspiration that helps your story, and the twists that hurt this story. You could always save them for another story if it doesn't work for the current story you're writing. 

Most of the time the story morphs and changes as I write it. For this WIP, it's morphing and changing as I am developing it, and I suspect it's not done. Not done until after the first draft is done, and not even then. 

Of course, you should also have fun and try not to worry too much about this sorts of occurrences. But I thought I would blog about this event, since it was very scary at first. I thought maybe I was messing things up, but I saw the new twists through and now my story is better for it. So when in doubt, see it out! (yes, I just made a corny rhyme. So sue me, half of my brain is one a distant planet, working out the details of the dead...)

Have a great evening folks and feel free to share similar tales of woe and wonder!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Old School Query Letter

I am still not feeling 100% on the account of the strep throat my sister in law passed on to me, but I at least feel like a human being again.

Last week I took part in a wonderful webinar hosted by the fabulous Kristin Nelson. She gave a great discussion on query letters and how not to suck at them (my words, not hers). Ms. Nelson has some great resources for query letter writing on her blog that will start you off, but the webinar expounded upon those gems. 

Ms. Nelson approaches the query letter process in a slightly different way than I've ever seen. She suggests looking at your inciting incident, the plot event that kicks off your entire plot, and building the query letter around that. It gives the agents a taste of the plot without drowning them in details and irrelevant bits. 

This is not as easy as it sounds. I started out with a terrible query letter, mostly because I was trying to cram too much information in there. So I took a step back, and wrote down with a pencil and piece of paper the three most interesting parts of my novel. Three things I thought made my novel unique. I then crafted those bits into three sentences. From there, I worked out how to make those three pieces connect, and only then did I have something that vaguely resembled a query letter. I also chose to add a little detail about a subplot, to flesh out the query letter better.

I then rewrote those sentences a bajillion times. Or that's how many times it felt like. I wrote the same handful of sentences over and over, playing around with my word choice, and reading it out loud to see if it made sense or not. I didn't just erase when I made a mistake either, I started over. I worked on each sentence by itself until it read the way I wanted it to.

Why all the bother? Because with the webinar I get a free pitch paragraph critique from Ms. Nelson. I am literally jumping for joy with the thought. So, I made my pitch paragraphs (the paragraphs that talk about your novel) as awesome as I could so when Ms. Nelson looks them over she'll catch the real mistakes, and not something I could have fixed myself. 

It really surprised me how different writing those paragraphs out long hand felt. I almost wish I had the time to write a novel like that. I've tried, but I think too fast for a first draft to be written by long hand. A friend of mine wants to re type her manuscript while editing it, and I am considering doing that the next time I edit.

Here are some lessons I learned from the webinar, and the subsequent rewriting of my pitch paragraphs:

*Make sure the information in the pitch paragraphs is new and interesting. Don't say what was a normal day or event for your character--tell us the extraordinary stuff that happens to her. 

*Pick out three to four details about your novel that makes it unique. Expand upon these details and how it affects the main character. Don't try to talk about too much as once. Remember, show don't tell works just as well here as your novel.

*Space is a premium in your pitch paragraphs. Don't waste it by saying things like "It was a normal day until..." or repeating what you've already covered.

*Make sure each sentence builds on the last, and connects in a way that makes sense. Read the backs of novels to get a sense of how novels are pitched in a short period of time. Given enough to whet their appetite and leave them wanting more. Wanting more means a request for partials!

*Write the query letter out by hand. Everyone has time for this. Your query letter is your first impression to an agent. You can take the time to write it out long hand and pay attention to every single word you're putting into the paragraphs. 

These are some tips I've picked up along the way. What other techniques have helped you write a good query letter?