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NaNoWriMo 2013, Day 8

NaNoWriMo 2013

NaNoWriMo 2013

I’m charting my daily progress on NaNoWriMo. Since you may or may not care, I’ll kindly hide it. Thanks for taking the time. :)

0

NaNoWriMo 2013, Day 7

NaNoWriMo 2013

NaNoWriMo 2013

I’m charting my daily progress on NaNoWriMo. Since you may or may not care, I’ll kindly hide it. Thanks for taking the time. :)

0

NaNoWriMo 2013, Day 6

NaNoWriMo 2013

NaNoWriMo 2013

I’m charting my daily progress on NaNoWriMo. Since you may or may not care, I’ll kindly hide it. Thanks for taking the time. :)

2

NaNoWriMo 2013, Day 5

NaNoWriMo 2013

NaNoWriMo 2013

I’m charting my daily progress on NaNoWriMo. Since you may or may not care, I’ll kindly hide it. Thanks for taking the time. :)

2

NaNoWriMo 2013, Day 4

NaNoWriMo 2013

NaNoWriMo 2013

I’m charting my daily progress on NaNoWriMo. Since you may or may not care, I’ll kindly hide it. Thanks for taking the time. :)

0

NaNoWriMo 2013, Day 3

NaNoWriMo 2013

NaNoWriMo 2013

I’m charting my daily progress on NaNoWriMo. Since you may or may not care, I’ll kindly hide it. Thanks for taking the time. :)

2

NaNoWriMo 2013, Day 1

NaNoWriMo 2013

NaNoWriMo 2013

I’m charting my daily progress on NaNoWriMo. Since you may or may not care, I’ll kindly hide it. Thanks for taking the time. :)

1

So, I’ve Been Thinking . . .

Thinking is dangerous. Thinking causes other bad things, like ideas.

“But how is an idea a bad thing?” you’re no doubt asking right now. And to everyone’s utter lack of surprise, I’m going to explain. (That’s how my blog works. I imagine your questions and answer them. It’s my schtick.) But first, there is background. (Also my schtick.)

A writer friend sold me her Kindle DX (the magazine-sized one) because she got an iPad and hasn’t used the DX in months. Her loss is my gain. Before I purchased it from her, I borrowed it for a few weeks to get the feel of it. and I was able to read some of her books.

Several of those books were on writing by Holly Lisle. In them, she talks about methods she uses to “trick” her subconscious (she called it her “muse”) to help her come up with story ideas. A couple of these involve boring, repetitive tasks — thus forcing the muse to come out to play — and asking oblique, open questions. Not, “What does my antagonist want, exactly?” but more like, “What does my antagonist like to do? What are his passions?” The answer to the first question is going to be a metaphorical shrug and an “I don’t know. You tell me. You’re the ‘writer.'”1 But the answer to the second one might be a veritable stream of useful goodness.

Because ideas can pop up at any time, not just when it’s convenient to write them down, I always surround myself with either note-taking material or something else, just in case. In the car, I have a digital voice recorder. I use it to take down thoughts and ideas as I’m driving. Every few days I transcribe the notes into Evernote and label them so I’ll know which stories they relate to, etc.

I’ve also been struggling trying to figure out what my urban fantasy novel has that makes it different than all the other urban fantasy novels out there. What about my universe would entice people to read it instead of one of the others. It’s been weighing heavily on my mind. The fact that magic is “out”? The ensemble cast (at least three POV characters). The magic itself? (For those keeping score, the question put to my ‘muse’ was “What’s special about my world?”)

August 13th was a Tuesday. As I do almost every Tuesday night, I left work and drove (a boring, repetitive task) to the Barnes & Noble at The Forum in Norcross, wherein meets The Forum Writers, a critique group that’s been around as a coherent entity for nearly eleven years. I’ve been going for just a bit over five of those years.

On the way, at 5:32 PM, I recorded this2 on my DVR.

It seems like most urban fantasy involves some other realm. The Gray [Kat Richardson‘s Greywalker series]. The Nevernever [Jim butcher‘s The Dresden Files series]. Alternate, parallel dimensions [Katharine Kerr‘s Nola O’Grady series]. Etc. In my Dummies book, I wrote a little thing about astral projection and kind of picked up on Kerr’s [Deverry Series concept of the] silver thread that connects the body to the consciousness. Well, that could be my ‘other world.’ An alternate Atlanta inside the mental space, but existing externally, created communally by all the minds inhabiting it.

Four minutes later:

What if this alternate Atlanta exists alongside and on top of the real Atlanta, and it’s similar to but not exactly like the real one? And maybe people who have the ability to do magic stand out in some way. Ooh, and every crime the MCU investigates would then have to be investigated both in the real Atlanta and over in that other Atlanta?

Fourteen minutes after that:

Maybe one of the characteristics of the stasis spell [on the crime scenes in the novel] — the thing that makes them really stand out — is that the stasis also extends into the other place as well as the real Atlanta.

Then I made it to the book store and we did our critique thing, and then I had dinner. And then, on the way home at 11:08:

And now we come full circle. What if this alternate place is the source of magic? I was trying to stay more ‘scientific,’ but I’m not sure I can.

A minute later:

So this other place is built from the subconscious or unconscious of all the people who have magic. It therefore only exists as long as there are people who can perform magic. For a while, it was almost gone3, but now it’s back, because of breeding. But if that’s the case, then I can foresee a future book where gifted people are dying — being killed — and it’s weakening the other place. But why do some people get more power and others less? Why is it disproportionate?

And I think maybe — just maybe — my subconscious might have — out of sheer boredom — provided me with something that will give me a little more oomph to play with. Maybe these notes are my first steps into a rediscovery of my world and a re-invigoration of my desire to write in it.

Oh, and I’ve since tentatively decided to call that other place “the Flux.” I hope it hasn’t been used other than the one place (Jack Chalker‘s Soul Rider series) I absolutely know it has, which is kind of where the idea came from.

GBE2

Group Blogging Exchange 2

Today’s post is inspired by GBE2 (Group Blogging Experience)’s Week 116 prompt: First Steps


  1. I wonder exactly what it says about me that my subconscious and any alter-egos I personify are always assholes? Hmm.
  2. These aren’t direct transcriptions. I left out all the repetitions, cursing, hedging, speech disfluencies (uh, um, er, ah . . .) and edited it to make it look like I wish I talked to myself instead of like a crazy person, which is how it actually sounds.
  3. A small bit of world-building I’m not sure I’ll ever use, but it’s there if I need it. There was a time in the past during which science and religion nearly killed magic, but thanks to a brave few people, it survived.

7

Expect the Unexpected

Last week at work, I was scheduled for a professional training class. SOA (Service-Oriented Architecture, if anyone is interested). It wasn’t all that difficult, but it was mentally exhausting to be in a room for five straight days, eight hours per day, in lecture. I gave that up in 1991 when I left grad school to start my first job.

Luckily, the end of the week had a bonus. Two of my Viable Paradise friends — Alison and Debra — were in town for the Romance Writers of America‘s 33rd annual conference, held here in Atlanta last weekend. The three of us plus our other classmate, Scott, who lives here in the Atlanta area, agreed to meet for dinner and catching up.

Another bonus was that Alison brought along her conference roommate Diana, another VP alum from 2006 (VPX). It was great seeing them again and meeting Diana. And dinner was awesome. (If you get the chance to try the lamb lollipops at Sear, do so.)

But the big fun of the evening was being with other writers and discussing our writing. Yes, I do that weekly, but the added bonus here was that Debra, Alison, and Diana were at RWA to pitch their ideas to publishers/agents (and each of them got multiple requests for either full or partial submissions, so yay!). So the inevitable, “So, what are you writing? Pitch it to me,” question came up. :)

Now, I have never done a pitch. Not seriously. But these are my tribe, so I said, “OK, my one-sentence version is this: It’s like Fringe with magic.” That’s not quite right, but it’s what I have. I tried to do an “It’s <this thing> meets <this other thing>” one, but I can’t ever find two things to put there. X-Files is too . . . something. And The Dresden Files is, as well. I thought of Criminal Minds meets . . . something with magic that isn’t The Dresden Files. But my mind refuses to fill in that second blank. (Everyone agrees, by the way, that comparing anything to The Dresden Files is a bad idea. I can’t really explain it, but . . . it’s like, it would be the kiss of death to compare your YA story to Harry Potter because it’s too big. Too popular. Claiming a similarity would be tantamount to saying ‘I think I’m as good as { Jim Butcher | J. K. Rowling }.’)

Anyway, they encouraged me to do the longer one, so I said something like this:

It’s an urban fantasy series that takes place in and around modern-day Atlanta, only magic works. There are no sexy vampires or sexy werewolves, and nothing ever sparkles. Magic is ‘out’ but not accepted. Nick Damon and Javier Ellis are FBI agents with magical powers who work with the local cops to solve cases involving magic.”

In the first book, Death Scene, bodies are discovered, each brutally murdered, and each scene is frozen in time at the moment of the victim’s death. Nick and Javier, along with Atlanta detectives Charlotte “Chuck” Norris and Derek Meads, are put on the case and have to move fast as more bodies are discovered.

They liked that (I know it still needs work), and asked for some clarifying information, then offered some suggestions. When they summarized Scott’s back to him, he liked it so much, he made them text it to his phone so he’d remember it. :)

We sat in the restaurant and talked for a while, then moved to the bar for a while, then found comfortable chairs in an out-of-the-way, quiet niche and talked some more until very late. Then we all had to leave because of that whole ‘becoming a pumpkin’ thing. (Read: We’re no longer spring chickens and staying up until all hours means Bad Things™ the next day.)

And it was somewhere during the ‘talked for a long time’ part that the serendipity happened. Someone asked what else I was writing, and I said, “It’s fairy tale noir. A detective solves the case of where Cinderella’s husband is going at night when he leaves the castle.” They chuckled, and we went on.

But apparently, something clicked in the back of my head. On the drive home (about 30 to 40 minutes from downtown to my suburb), the new story — discarding most of what I thought was the good stuff from my existing story — popped into my head, and I quickly grabbed my digital voice recorder and made sure I wouldn’t forget it.

The story clocked in at a hefty 11,300 words to begin with. With help from a couple of my friends and the judicious use of figurative shearing scissors, I got it down to about 8400 words, but it was still too big. I needed a way to cut it. But I couldn’t figure out what to lose and what to keep. I liked every scene. As it turns out, I will toss almost all of it except the beginning and the final scene, and rewrite all the sticky middle part. I think. I haven’t actually written it, yet, but it’s in the queue.

So, thank you, Alison, Scott, Debra, and Diana, for helping me fix a problem, even if you didn’t know you were doing it. :)

GBE2

Group Blogging Exchange 2

Today’s post is inspired by GBE2 (Group Blogging Experience)’s Week 114 prompt: Serendipity

4

What If . . .

O by dzucconi, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License  by  dzucconi 

I own a book called What If? by Anne Bernays and Pamela Painter. One of the very first exercises in that book is to write at least one first sentence every day. With no requirement that it go further than just that: a first sentence to a story.

I’m not sure I even finished the book. I started doing that simple exercise, and it led me to several short stories (including the first one I ever finished back in 1992) and to my current novel series in progress. I did it for years, penning as few as one and as many as twenty or thirty first sentences every single day. Some of them were ridiculous; some were sublime. Some were speculative; some were mundane. Some were funny; some tragic. But the thing they all had in common was that they got my mental juices flowing. I’d think of a first sentence, and with it would come a sense of character, place, time, mood, theme, scene . . . pretty much everything but a plot.

It’s also how I discovered that I tend to randomly use the name Victor a lot. Usually in a negative manner. But I digress.

I no longer do this exercise, although I think perhaps I should start doing it again. Just to get my author juices flowing again. You see, I’m kind of blocked, right now. I have a ton of ideas, but when it comes time to put them down on paper/electrons . . . I instantly hate every syllable.

He was a dark and stormy knight.

“Feh! That sucks.”

As London burned, Victor looked down upon it with

“No! That’s even worse!”

Blood, red and sticky and still warm, dripped from my fingers into the still-open mouth of the corpse at my feet.

“No, no, no, no, NO!” <insert anachronistic image of ripping paper from a typewriter, complete with appropriate sound effects, wadding up the page, and throwing it at a trashcan overflowing with other crumpled sheets of paper, all with one sentence typed across the top>

I’m supposed to be working on my goal of writing short stories and sending them off to publishers. And I would be if I could stand a single syllable of anything I’ve written. I reached a point at which I simply could no longer look at my existing stories (editing stories I’ve already written is not my favorite thing about writing). My brain demanded that I work on what it really wanted to work on: my novel.

“Fine,” I told it. “You want it, you got it. Novel it is.”

There was a faint, gurgling squee from inside my skull. I would have been worried except that I’m used to things like that.

I churned out about 3000 words. A bit under two chapters of Death Scene, book 1 of the MCU Case Files, an urban fantasy series set in modern-day Atlanta, but with magic.

And I edited it and got it almost like I wanted it. And I triumphantly submitted it to my writing group. But with reservations. I wanted to change . . . something. But I couldn’t figure out what. Something was just not right. But what? Maybe they could help.

What I heard back definitely told me what it was. I think ‘uninteresting’ would be the polite term to use. I think the exact phrase one person used was ‘sterile and boring.’ Others used words like ‘slow,’ ‘no action,’ ‘stereotypical,’ ‘teaser-y/prologue-y,’ ‘not enough drama,’ and ‘no conflict.’

To be fair, they also said it was not info-dumpy (but was bordering on it), flowed well, drew them in, and was well-written, but as an opening chapter, it wasn’t enough. They wanted more from an introduction to a new world in which magic, the FBI, the police, and a body frozen in time during the act of being burned at the stake are all introduced.

And as each person said nearly the same thing, I nodded, because it confirmed what I’d been afraid of. And hey, it’s a chapter one. I should just move on and write chapter two, armed with the knowledge of the consensus opinion.

But that’s not what I did. What I did was start playing “What if?”

What if I increase the amount of magic the magical characters use? I mean, it’s frickin’ Urban Fantasy, right? Let’s get some magic in there from the get-go.

What if I start the chapter later? Closer to the action of examining the crime scene? Or, possibly better yet, what if I drop back a bit and start with the hapless individual who discovers the body looking for a place to get high and frisky with his girlfriend?

What if there’s conflict between the FBI and the Atlanta PD? Not stereotypical “turf wars,” but something different.

What if . . . ?

What if . . . ?

So, um . . . how do I turn it off? I’d like to write chapter 2, now, but instead I’m redesigning how vampires work and planning how I can introduce the bad guy from book 3. Yes, book 3. And ideas for the plot of book 2 are cropping up, as well.

So I guess ‘What If?’ can be a writer’s best friend or his worst enemy. At the same time. Which is a bit disconcerting.

Ooh! What if dragons . . .


Disclaimer: I am the exact opposite of upset with my writers group who gave me these critiques. I am, in fact, delighted. They were, as always, honest, thorough, and got right at the core of what was wrong with the chapter. To get angry at that would be hypocritical, since that’s the entire point of a critique group. I quoted some of their comments not because I was upset at them or was dwelling on them, but because they were particularly apt. I was so close to the story that I couldn’t see what was right in front of me.

I just wanted to say that because some of them will probably see this post, and I wanted to nip any angst on their parts in the bud. :)

This post was inspired by the GBE2 Blog On Week 108 prompt, “What If?”

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