Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Great Sleep Deprivation Experiment

I am so tired right now I feel like a zombie. I also suspect I will be coming up with more creative metaphors for feeling tired, especially after I have my baby, or as I like to call it The Great Sleep Deprivation Experiment.

Here's the thing: I don't do well on lack of sleep. I just don't. I've always been like that. I usually get between 8-9 hours of sleep. How you might ask? I make sure to go to bed early or sleep in. Sleep is a priority to me, because I know how I am when I don't get enough. When you have a physically tiring job like massage therapy, it's hell if you haven't gotten enough sleep. 

Now that I've gotten pregnant the hours of sleep have increased, but also sort of not. I wake up in the middle of the night more (but not as much as I will in the coming months). I wake up early in the morning and can't fall back to sleep despite laying there for an hour. Today I just decided I couldn't lay there anymore and got up early. I was going to be tired anyway, I might as well get up. 

The kicker is I know this is nothing compared to having a newborn, but I guess I'll learn how to take a nap, right?

Last night I toured the maternity ward at the hospital. It was great. I got a lot of my questions answered, questions I am having a hard time finding answers to (like, how long am I going to be in the hospital after the delivery? Two days, if I don't need a C section. Will I get to keep the baby in the room with me or not? Yes, but there's also a nursery I can check the baby in if I need to sleep or take a shower. It's like a baby library.). I know I can Google stuff, but it all depends on the hospital and polices and then you find this website where people are sharing their horrible labor stories and it makes me want to pull all my hair out. So I have been wary of the Internets and their awesome power of information. 

But still, there are all these nagging questions I somehow must find answers to. Did you ever just not study for a big test? You were lazy and didn't bother. You forgot. Whatever the reason, you're sitting with a huge test in front of you and you are totally unprepared.

That's sort of how I feel right now. A lot of these baby questions have no clear answers to them. Like the pacifier thing. I don't want to shove a pacifier in my kid's mouth every time s/he gets fussy. I don't want a crutch. But on the other hand, I've read in books they reduce the risk of SIDS. How, I don't know. They are just supposed to. 

There's also the drugs during labor thing. I have a very high pain threshold. Very high. My jaw was locked open for three days and I didn't take any of the Percocet they gave me because I took one at the hospital and started hallucinating. I got a second hole pierced in my ears, and one side got infected badly enough to engulf the earring stud. That was a fun conversation. I come home from school and Mom says I've lost an earring. I say no, touching the two earring backs, I haven't. We check my earlobe more closely, and presto! The magic disappearing earring! The doctor had to cut it out of my head, and didn't give me an anesthetic beforehand (he was a swell guy). 

But I so don't want to test this pain threshold thing with natural childbirth. I want something to take the edge off labor pains. I am not on board with a completely natural childbirth. Nothing against those brave souls who have done natural childbirth, but yeah I'd rather not test that pain endurance.

However, I would really rather not have an epidural. I don't like the idea of being numb from the waist down, and the midwife has to tell me when to push. I don't like the possibility of low back pain for the rest of my life. An epidural can also make the baby really sluggish. I want to experience the birth at least a little bit.

See, these are sort of important questions. And they aren't half of the decisions you never realize you have to make. Let the baby sleep in the room in a bassinet with you or not? Circumcision or not? Should I take a breastfeeding class or will the support from the Lactation consultants at the hospital be enough? Also, my best friend's mom was a Lactation consultant for year, so I can get extra help from her.

And our living space! We thought about trying to get a house, but might wait until my husband gets further into training. We have a two bedroom apartment, but the second bedroom is full. My desk, my husband's desk, we have a daybed, two bookshelves and a filing cabinet. We can either put things in storage/consolidate, or check and see how much more a three bedroom apartment would be. 

I actually felt sort of like this when I really got into writing. There were so many agents! Genres! Publishing considerations! Suddenly the entire publishing world opened up it's yawning maw and I was swallowed whole. I am trying to avoid this with the baby. Because this stuff might feel like a big deal, but I know it's not. I'm not going to know what I want to do until I get to that situation most of the time. 

It's very much like writing that first rough draft. There's a lot of trial and error, a lot of doing what seems like a good idea and what feels right.

I just hope the baby turns out better than my first rough draft.

I also hope this post makes sense, because I think I have fallen asleep.

What events have you experienced that you didn't feel completely prepared for?

Monday, August 22, 2011

Thursday, August 18, 2011

How to Make Cliches Work for You

Yesterday I have a mild panic attack. I blame the pregnancy hormones. While drafting my query letter for The Heart's Remains, I had this horrible suspicion that the book sounded like one big clichefest. Exorcists. Demon summonings. Summoners. Family secrets. Not exactly untrodden ground here, especially in fantasy.

This of course was not true. I know that. I'm not saying I completely reinvented the wheel (that would be impossible, since the book is a loose retelling of Snow White), but I know my book isn't one big cliche. Sometimes when you boil an idea down to it's smallest parts it can feel like that, but as we know, a lot of what makes something fresh and new is the execution. 

I've talked about that before, so today I thought instead I would show you how to make a cliche in your genre work for you. I personally don't think there's anything wrong with a trope, so long as they are used sparingly, or you do something cool with them. After all, most ideas become a trope because there's something enduring about them. I think once you've thought through the cliche and used it to your advantage, it become a trope. You still need to use tropes sparingly, but not you're thinking about the elements of your idea, not just piling on a bunch of ideas that have all been done to death.

See this article here about tropes: Tropes Are Tools

And here is a good livejournal post about Trope vs. Cliche.
Let me also say that I don't usually get story ideas this way. Normally I have a vague idea for a story and where I want it to go before I start taking each piece apart. It gives me a better sense of the direction I want to take the reversal. But there's nothing saying you can't say, "Man. I love the 'Love at first sight' trope. Let's see what sort of story I can make of that!"

This requires a tiny bit of research. But it's the fun, don't let it suck you in, sort of research.

So here we go. I am going to use the trope "Chosen One" since a) It's a pretty common trope. It's considered a cliche in most stories nowadays, and b) I am developing a novel with a chosen one in it, so I've already done a lot of thinking on it. 

1. Scouting

Your first defense against a cliche is research. I like to use TV as a good starting place. They have a vast collection of tropes and things are cross referenced.

We simply type "Chosen One" into the search box and pull up a long entry. The entry itself is also riddle with links, so you might want to check a few of them out if you're confused. There's also a long list of examples from books, movies, TV, and even webcomics. I like to skim through the examples to give myself an idea of how the trope has been done before.

Here is another trick. Scroll down the entry and you see where the "Chosen One" trope is on the trope axis. You get a lot of similar tropes to look at. "Fate and Prophecy types", "Magical Girl Tropes", "Heroes", "Archetypal Characters", "Empowerment", and "Discredited Tropes" (which means it's been done to death, didn't age well, or people have come to hate this trope).

Since my story deals more with fate versus free will, I will look at the "Fate and Prophecy types" branch. But let's say you're trying to pay homage to a traditional fantasy story. You've got an idea that you're going to use classic archetypes and then parody the heck out of all of them. "Archetypal Characters" would probably be a better branch for you in that case. 

My search gives me all sorts of plays on the Chosen One trope:
*The Chosen Zero
*It Sucks to be the Chosen One
*The Unchosen One

Next, you attempt to list all the movies and books you've seen/read that used the Chosen One as a trope. Depending on the trope you're researching, you might even want to re-watch some of these to see how they did it.

In this example, Chosen One has been done so often it would be a great idea for you to brush up on how other works have used this trope. You're going to really want to shoot for something different here, especially if the Chosen One is your main character.

2. Processing

That's enough information for now, don't you think? You don't want to get too crazy with this. 

Now we sit down and use our brains. Think about why this element is popular enough to be a trope or cliche if done badly. How it is used? Why has it endured for so long? 

For the Chosen One, I already know why it's popular. (Mythologists speculate) it comes from ancient legends, when people were still telling tales around the campfire. Cultures needed a way to designate the hero from everyone else, so they said that destiny chose this person, or this chosen one is the son of a god. 

This is also why it's almost a cliche. Because it's been done before we even invented books. Also, it's no longer a cultural necessity for us to use destiny/the gods to tell people who the hero is. We have other ways of designating the hero, and sometimes we'd rather the hero to be a guy just like us (hence the Everyman trope). 

Take your list and ask yourself the following:

*What do we expect from this trope?
*What is ordinary about how I want to use this trope?
*What is extraordinary about how I want to use this trope?

You don't have to get this all in one go. I often have one place in my brainstorming document for this, and I often add to it as I think about the idea. I also place my notes underneath the trope in question, so it looks little thought trees. :D

Here's an example:

*What do we expect from this trope? 

*We’d expect the Chosen one to fulfill their prophecy right away and always be on the side of the good guys.
            But in Star Wars, Darth Vader did both. He subverted the prophecy because he helped kill the Jedi, and then later on with the help of Luke, he kills the Emperor and fulfills the original prophecy of getting rid of the Sith Lords.

*We’d expect the Chosen One to not have a Chooser, for it just to be a nebulous “fate” thing. A prophecy, something they can’t confront.
            What if instead there was a chooser? Or the Chosen One themselves was the Chooser of the fate. Valkyries, Fates, the Morrigan, Norns.

So underneath I often put what I am going to do, if anything, to address the audiences expectations of the trope. You don't have to address every single expectation. Some of those expectations are going to be fulfilled, and that's okay. 

The really cool thing is thinking about each expectation often gives me neat ideas. I think the Darth Vader both fulfilling and subverting the prophecy is AWESOME. That makes me happy. I also now have cool ideas for norns and fates and valkyries. Also good stuff. 

The important thing to remember is to not drive yourself crazy with thinking you're writing a terrible book riddled with cliches. Some tropes you use are just going to be there, no matter what. If the good guys win, congratulations, that's a trope. If the guy gets the girl, also a trope. 

Tropes are simply what we expect from a story with a certain set up. You can have your fun though, if you think about which elements you want to subvert and twist by trying to figure how you can do things differently. 

It's also important to note that context is king. If you're writing a medieval fantasy novel set in pseudo-Europe and there's an ancient prophecy where a farm boy turns out to be the Chosen one and picks up a sword to defeat the Dark Lord, then your Chosen One trope is going to feel A LOT like a cliche. 

But, if you do like J.K. Rowling did, and instead set her Chosen One to a magical wizard school (also a trope) where he had to learn the ropes and had to stop Voldemort from taking over the muggle and magical world, it feels less like a cliche. Rowling did enough interesting worldbuilding and had enough clever new twists that her Chosen One didn't feel like the same old same old. Especially when she introduced the concept that Voldemort MADE Harry the Chosen One by killing his parents. How it could have been Neville instead. 

So. Does anyone have any other thoughts to add? Anyone want to see me pick apart another trope?


Tuesday, August 16, 2011

ARC Giveaway: Daughter of Smoke and Bone

I have been in love with "Daughter of Smoke and Bone" by Lani Taylor ever since she vaguely mentioned it on her blog. YES, it's been that long. 

I am slowly counting the days when it's released, but for now, allow me to direct your attention to this ARC giveaway of....yes, you guessed it, "Daughter of Smoke and Bone" (I just never get tired of saying that title.)

Claire Legrand, a magnanimous human being, is holding a super-easy contest. So go now. Check it out. You'll thank me.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Post Rewrite

My brain is made of tapioca pudding.

Not really, but that's what it feels like.

It's funny because DURING the rewrite (or the first draft) after a while all you want is to be done. You dream about typing "The End" and celebrating with a book buying spree. 

But when that day actually arrives, suddenly your brain is like, "Wait? What? Huh?" You've trained yourself for months to sit diligently in the chair and pump out words. And now you're done. 

Directionless. Purposeless. Aimless. 

Of course, there's always something else to do. There's other book ideas to work on. I have another book, The Ghosts Between Us, to revise and edit (it's probably going to need a rewrite too). I am going to research agents and draft a query letter for The Heart's Remains, even though I still have to edit the book. I figure the more time I spend on both the better off I am going to be. But it's also a question of when to start another project. I need a little bit of a recharge in between major projects.

Also, my apartment is a mess. I should probably put "spring cleaning" on my list of things to do. 

Also, I have lots of books on the "To Read" list. Some books I can read while revising, but other books that are really long and involved, I try to wait until I am not currently hip-deep in revision. 

But it still feels weird that for so long I have one driving purpose and goal, and for now, that's been lifted. The next few days I am going to consider my options and figure out what my next project is going to be.

In the meantime, I get to goof off and call it "recharging." Isn't the writer's life grand?

So what do you guys do after finishing revision/drafting?

Wednesday, August 10, 2011


Ladies and gentleman, I am done with my rewrite.

Yes. You read that correctly. I am done. Finished. 

This is how I currently feel:

My brain is mush. I also feel really proud of myself. Because there were times I didn't think I would finish. I know you read that a lot, usually in a celebratory post like this one, where the writer says, "I thought I might never finish!" or "I almost gave up, like, a million times!" 

And then the writer sips champagne (and pronounces it that really pretentious way, "shamp-PAN-ya") because she's just sold the book for a million dollars.

Except I still have to do a major edit on this book, so I won't be querying anytime soon. And also, I really did consider giving up lots of time. Sometimes just because I was frustated, and other times because it was just so HARD. It's difficult to decribe to people who have never written a book before how it can be hard. It seems like the easiest thing in the world, to just jot a bunch of words down on the page. 

But I bled for this book, and it's not over yet. But for now, I am letting it rest, and I have you guys in part to thank. Having this blog is a great way to stay accountable. I knew if I quit that my friends would give me a hard time. Ditto for the blog. And even though you guys would be understanding, there would still be the guilt. The guilt that I quit. 

So I kept going.

And now I am finished.

Thank you, everyone, for your support. 

Now if you'll excuse me, I am going to figure out how to occupy my time now that the rewrite's over.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Second Trimester: A Wonderful Thing

Today I am officially in my second trimester! This means I am 13 weeks pregnant.

It feels like this pregnancy is going very slowly when I stop to think about it, but on the other hand, I can't believe it's already been 13 weeks. 4 months. That's a long time. 

By all accounts this is the "fun" trimester. You don't have the morning sickness and fatigue in the first trimester, but you're not as huge as a alien mothership yet. Everyone assured me that when I hit my second trimester the morning sickness would go away, but I was sort of worried they were just lying so I didn't throw up on them. 

Apparently this is actually true, since I am feeling better. I also have less anxiety because the chance of miscarriage decreases drastically. The first trimester feels like the valley of the shadow of death in some ways. Maybe it was just because we found out so soon we were pregnant. We started trying to have a baby, and bamn, next month I miss my period. So I have plenty of time to try and not worry about all the things that could happen.

I didn't want to start planning things too soon. I haven't researched the different birth method (like what sort of drugs I want present at the birth of my baby :D), I haven't registered yet, I haven't bought maternity clothes yet. Now I feel like I can start thinking about these things. 

But that's when I realized that this vague anxiety I feel for my baby will never actually go away. There's never going to be an "all clear" guarantee that say everything is going to be okay. I'll still worry when the baby is a toddler, a child, and heaven help me, a teenager. When I say worry, I don't mean I am staying up at night losing sleep. But it's humbling in a way, to know that my life has been so changed already and the baby isn't even here yet to keep me up at night.

Another cause for my excellent mood is I am very, very close to the end of my rewrite. I started outlining the climax yesterday using this article of Jim Butcher's. I know it sounds weird to outline the climax, but sometimes they intimidate me. There's so many moving parts, so many loose threads being wrapped up that my mind just draws a blank. I use the article to figure out what character is where, and doing what, before I plunge into the scene. 

Soon I will be able to write the post proclaiming that I am done, but in the meantime I will say that I am making excellent progress. 

So how is everyone doing? How are your works in progress? 

Friday, August 5, 2011

Pet Peeve: Words Have Weight

"Word have weight." 
                                 ---Holly Lisle

Today I am going to talk about a pet peeve of mine. Since most of my readers are also writers, I am going to be preaching to the choir on this one, but I figure some of you might not have thought about things this way. If you have, well then join me in the comments section and we can complain about it. :D
Today I read a funny article on about subjects people love to talk about, but most people don't want to hear about. Number one on the list was your book/script/screenplay. I rather enjoyed the article, especially since Daniel O'Brian made the caveat that most writers like to talk to other writers about their ideas. And most of the time, if you have a book or something to show for your efforts, "normal" "non-writer" people usually like to hear about your book because you have something to show for it.

I am going to add to that statement and say in my experience, even IF you have a book to show for your efforts, most people don't want to listen to you breathlessly talking about your space adventure cowboy romance between a sentient tree and a hamster. Short, interesting pitch sentences, yes. When my co-workers ask about what I am writing, I use that as an opportunity to practice my pitching skills. 

"It's a retelling of Snow White on a tundra, about an exorcist who promises her mother on her deathbed that she'll stop a demon summoning before the winter solstice, but she winds up discovering her mother's secret life in the cult." (that's the basic plot of my book, The Heart's Remains, in case I haven't mentioned it before).

See, that was short and sweet. I can gauge how interesting the story is (to some people) by their reaction. I can also choose to include different details to see what people seem to respond best to. When they ask for more information, I expound, but I usually don't go on at length about my book. 

I think a lot of people like the idea that you're a writer more than actually hearing about your book in detail. We're interested because it's our book, but most people really couldn't care.

I used to ramble on and on and on. It wasn't pretty. I would deluge the hapless sap who asked me about my book with details. "It's about this girl who's mother is sick from an unknown illness, and right before she dies she tells Sera, the main character, about a demon summoning that a secret cult is doing, and Sera promises to stop them, but then she finds out it's hard to find proof of the cult, and she gets sick herself, and she has a twin sister, and her friend gets possessed, and...."

To most people it's just a bunch of details. It doesn't make sense to them. 

But that's not my pet peeve. I have made my peace that 99% of the population is not rabidly excited about my book ideas.

In the comments section a lot of people disagreed with the author's statement that you need to have tangible results, like half a book, in order for most people to be interested in your book/film. Lots of people said that ideas were just as good, if not better, because you can see where the book is going.
I've also seen this basic sentiment prevalent on forums everywhere and in real life. How many people have you met that say they had a book idea? And it's going to be the best thing since Twilight/The Da Vinci Code/The Bible. Yet they have nothing to show for the idea.

I am not saying these people are lazy posers and need to write that idea down. Not everyone is a writer, after all. It's a lot of work. It's just really annoying to me when people act like having an idea is the same exact thing as actually writing a book.

I know I should be more understanding. They don't know, because they haven't written the book yet. They don't actually know how hard it is to get from the beginning to the end, and then to edit the sucker within an inch of it's life, and then...

The other thing these people don't seem to understand is words have weight.  Having an idea is great. It's the first step. But anyone who's ever had an idea and then wrote that out into a book knows that no idea remains completely intact from when you first had it. The words you're writing have weight. Even if you have an idea come to you and everything is laid out perfectly, and you write the book and barely a thing changes, the book still feels different than your idea. There's layers to it. Nuances and subtleties that you didn't conceive of intially.

That's okay. Normal. What's supposed to happen. But that's why I get annoyed when people try to compare having an idea to writing a book. It's not as easy as simply jotting the idea on paper and selling it for millions of dollars.  

If it was, everyone would have a book out there.

So there. That's my rant. I'll stop foaming at the mouth.

So what do you guys think? Am I nuts? Or does that burn your biscuits too?

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Gee Gee Gee Baby Baby Baby

Guess what! I am sick!
It's the summer. I protest. There should be some sort of law against getting a bad head cold in the summer. Also, there should be an addendum to said law that the punishment is worse if the victim is still in her first trimester. 

Morning sickness + coughing * (lack of sleep^2) body aches - Robitussin Dm + three boxes of tissues and counting = Elizabeth high on cold medicine and unable to string more than two coherent sentences together. 

If I could remember the order of operations I might be able to tell you why my toes are tingling.

Rewriting is going fabulously because I haven't done any in a few days. Too scared to see what my addled brain will cook up. Mostly I've spend my days laying on the couch with my husband, who is also sick (he's the one that shared the virus--he really shouldn't have), watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer on Netflix.

Shocking confession time: I've never seen Buffy or Angel before! I know! I am fixing that right now. It's rather addictive. I feel like I am arriving to a fandom about ten years late. Maybe that's because I am. When I told my husband I'd never seen either series he wanted to know what I did with my time as a teenager.

I read books. Also, I wrote some. I didn't watch a lot of TV, and still don't. 

I tried to post yesterday and tell you guys why you weren't getting a coherent post from me, but about halfway through this post I got distracted and I forgot about it. 

Here's a song:

P. S. I like this song prior to the aide of over the counter cough medicine. True story! I think it's cute. I like J-pop (Japanese Pop, even though technically these girls are Korean so it would be considered K-pop) a lot.

P. P. S. I was going to say something, but I forgot while I was typing the first P.S.

P. P. P. S. I remember now. I was going to make a joke by adding a tag that didn't belong to this post, but then I figured only I would notice/find it funny. First I was going to use the tag "zombie apocalypse" but then I thought it might actually apply since my cold could be the first wave of the virus that will create the zombie apocalypse. (Also, I don't know why I have some of the tags I do. Seriously, why does "Bigos" get it's own tag? It's just a dish I make.)

Okay, so I looked through my tags, and it's no go. Even the ones that don't fit would just seem like I hit the wrong button. I mean, if I tag this post "lolcats" even though there aren't any cats in this post (just Korean girls and a confusing math equation) it won't be funny. Not in the ironic way I was hoping for. So the tag thing is a bust. Sorry. 

P. P. P. P. S. I didn't want to end the post on such a downer. So I added another PS. Although I wonder, adding more "Ps" to the P.S., that's not a real thing right? It's just something people do so you get the point that it's another added message but separate from the first. 

Have a great day!