This will be my last post at this site. From this point, you can find my journal at http://shannaswendson.blogspot.com/
I’ve been in a process I’ve come to think of as “unwriting” for nearly a week. I got to a certain point in the story, realized I was doing it wrong, and went back to fix it. That meant cutting a lot of stuff I’d already written. Yesterday, I finally got back to the same point in the story (in a totally different way) and back to the word count I had before the “unwriting” began. So now I can move forward. It’ll be a shortish afternoon, since I have a Good Friday concert to sing in tonight. I may try to make up the time tomorrow.
I’ve probably been a bit too hard on myself with this book. The idea was so fun and magical, but the actual thing feels like such a slog. I had to remind myself that the process of writing it has nothing to do with the process of reading it. In fact, the more of a slog it is to write, the more effort put into it, the more magical it may be to read. Also, this is a draft. I can sprinkle the pixie dust in when I revise it. That’s why I decided to write the whole thing instead of just a proposal. I only really get a sense of the full impact of the story when I write the whole thing, and that means I do a lot of revising of the opening to fit what I discover along the way. My mantras with this book are “good enough is the enemy of great” and “be too good to ignore.” I want editors to read this and desperately want to buy this book, so it’s worth the effort to make that happen.
In other news, I saw a recent survey that younger readers are more likely to be looking at Instagram than stuff like Twitter or Facebook. As a YA writer, I probably need to look into that, but I have to confess to being utterly clueless about it. It only works on phones, right? I seldom think to use my phone. But I’m a decent photographer (I had to take a course in college as part of my broadcast news degree), so it’s in my skill set. But I think in words, not images, which is why I’m a writer, so it will take some thought. Maybe I’ll do some exploring and brainstorming this weekend.
I had a thought yesterday while I was making my bed and tidying my bedroom. I found myself noticing little things I needed to do that I never seem to get around to doing, those nagging to-do list items that don’t have a particular deadline and that are just annoying enough to do that I let them carry over for weeks, months, even years in some rare cases. They hang over my head and make even leisure time feel less leisurely because there’s that sense that there’s something else I should be doing. But they don’t get done because I tell myself that I have other priorities. I always have a writing project I need to be working on, and I don’t like spending the emotional energy on other stuff while I’m writing.
So then I got the idea of devoting a week to getting things done — once I have this project and a couple of other things out of the way, take a block of time and devote it to getting all those things done. Then I could take a few days off to recover and enjoy that sense of having nothing I should be doing before diving into the next big writing project. Of course, new to-dos will always arise, but getting the current list done would certainly make the burden less onerous.
So, I made a list of everything I could think of that I need to do that I’ve been putting off, those passing thoughts of “oh, I really should take care of that.” I was surprised to only have about 30 items on the list. A few of them are bigger projects that might require multiple stages, like some of the home repairs I need to do or some of the purging/organizing I need to do, but most were relatively small tasks. I typed up and printed that list, cut the list into individual slips, and created a “job jar.” When I have a spare block of time, I’m going to draw a job and deal with it.
Yesterday’s task was to set up the NoMoRobo service that I can now use with the new phone service I’ve got (yes, I’ve had that since October, but there was a sign-up process, so it didn’t get done). It’s a service that intercepts the known robo caller scammers, so your phone rings once and it shows up on Caller ID, but then stops ringing. The process of signing up was a minor pain that took maybe 20 minutes, most of that having to reload my phone company’s web site a few times, but about an hour later I got one of those calls, and the readout in the Caller ID was one that I’ve had repeatedly. The phone rang once, and that was it, so it worked. This should help my productivity because I can generally ignore the first ring of any call and only break concentration to deal with it if it rings more than once.
I may still try to do the week of getting stuff done, but with any luck, I’ll have knocked out a lot of it ahead of time and will be able to focus on the more serious stuff (which may end up taking more than one week), like doing some of the more major home repairs and cleaning/organizing.
But first, I really need to focus on finishing this book.
I’m still plugging away at this book, with the plodding pace that comes with having to write a scene before I know what the scene should be, so I then have to rewrite it. But I’m getting close to the end, around 25,000 words to go. I made a list of things that need to happen before the end of the book, and there’s just one I’m not entirely sure of, whether it should be resolved here or kept for a sequel.
My ongoing dilemma is deciding when to just get something done and move on and when to make things difficult for my characters. When should I just let them do, find, or learn something so they can get to the next part of the story, and when should it be a struggle to do, find, or learn something? I think the answer is that it should be a struggle when it has something to do with the plot — would the antagonists stand in the way at this point? Would someone have had a reason to make something hard to do here? Otherwise, it’s just throwing in artificial conflict.
And then last night I read a deal announcement for a book that fits in the same general category as this one. It sounds like a very different treatment of the concept, but is still playing in the same space. It was a really good deal, sold at auction for six figures. I don’t know whether to find that encouraging and a good sign that publishers might be looking for something like this or to worry that this means publishers will say this is too much like that one.
Come to think of it, from what I know of publishers, it should be a good sign. I might not be able to sell to that publisher, but the auction losers might be looking for something like it.
So I’ll keep plugging.
Reminder: I’ll stop posting at this site after this week. You can find my blog at http://shannaswendson.blogspot.com/
, until I get my new site done and will be moving it to a different place entirely, and possibly changing the way I blog.
I’ve been making a real effort to read more lately, as I’m watching less TV, so I have a bunch of books to report on.
Fans of my Rebels series might enjoy Arabella of Mars
, by David D. Levine. You might consider it steampunk, though if you’re being really pedantic and technical about it, it’s more clockpunk, as it takes place during the Regency era, before the Age of Steam really got going, and the alternate technology is clockwork automata, not steam engines. But it’s still a retro-futuristic thing with airships and adventure, with a plucky heroine breaking out of her defined societal role. A young woman who grew up on her family’s Mars plantation feels constrained when her mother thinks they need to move back to earth so she can be trained to be a proper lady. But after her father’s death, she learns of an evil scheme by her cousin to go to Mars and rob her brother of his inheritance, and the only option she seems to have is to disguise herself as a boy to join the crew of a faster ship heading to Mars so she can warn her brother. Those who are real nitpickers about science may have problems with this, as the technology and science are all based on beliefs at that time, which means we have people living easily on Mars, farming there, with a breathable atmosphere, and then there’s the fact that you can sail on sailing ships to Mars. But if that sort of thing doesn’t have you sputtering “that’s not the way it works!” and you’re willing to suspend disbelief and go with it, it’s a really fun adventure story. The Evil Wizard Smallbone
by Delia Sherman is classified as a children’s book (middle-grade, I believe), but I thoroughly enjoyed it. A young runaway gets lost in the Maine woods and stumbles upon a remote house, where a strange old man gives him shelter, then declares that he’s an evil wizard, and the boy is his new apprentice. When the boy finds that he can’t seem to leave, he decides to take matters into his own hands and learn what he needs to figure out what’s going on and how to get his freedom — but the situation isn’t quite what he’s been told it is. I guess you could almost call it Stephen King-lite, with the strange, mysterious town in Maine and the dark forces surrounding it, but it’s not a really dark story. It’s whimsical and has a sweet heart.
I took a slight break from fantasy when I found a book by Julian Fellows, the writer of Downton Abbey, on the new books shelf at the library. Belgravia
had no connections to Downton Abbey, but I felt like there were some parallels in story lines and character types. It starts with an incident at the infamous ball that happened on the eve of the Battle of Waterloo, then picks up 25 years later with the consequences of what happened. Those consequences entangle a high-ranking noble family and a family of wealthy social climbers. As on Downton Abbey, we have an ordinary guy who finds himself abruptly moved up in society, scheming servants, and a very forward-thinking young noblewoman. The outcome was rather obvious to me from the start, but I think I would have been very dissatisfied if it hadn’t come out that way. I must say that he’s probably a better television writer than a novelist. The plot is fairly strong, but prose isn’t his strong suit. But if you’re missing Downton Abbey and want a bit more historical costume drama soap opera, this is a pretty quick read.The Invisible Library
by Genevieve Cogman was recommended by a reader, and yes, it was just my cup of tea. A librarian working for the magical repository of all books gets assigned a new trainee and a strange mission to go to a steampunky alternate reality where vampires and werewolves exist and retrieve a version of the Grimm fairy tales that includes one particular story that doesn’t exist in other realities. But she’s not the only one after it. This has a taste of contemporary fantasy — in that the heroine seems rather contemporary, though we aren’t quite sure which reality she’s from — but she’s thrown into a steampunk kind of world that also has a lot of other fantasy elements. There are already two more with more on the way, and when I finish my current library haul, I’ll be devouring the rest. Thanks for the recommendation!
And finally, The Star-Touched Queen
by Roshani Chokshi is a YA fantasy that doesn’t really read like YA, so don’t let the label stop you if you’re an adult. It’s set in a fantasy version of India and draws upon Indian mythology and folklore, but there are still elements that feel quite familiar from European folklore and fairy tales. A raja’s daughter whose birth horoscope seems ominous believes she’ll never marry because of it, but when she’s put in a situation where she has to choose a husband for diplomatic reasons, she’s unexpectedly whisked away by a mysterious man and taken to a magical realm. As she gradually learns what’s going on, she has to decide who she can trust. The imagery in this book is so dreamlike and beautiful, with some very poetic language. I kept wanting to write down quotes from it. It’s also very romantic, the kind of book you finish with a sigh.
I guess all this is what happens when you cut back on your TV viewing, which is probably good for me. I’m ahead for the year on my reading goals, and my writing output has also increased.
It was a good thing I did a trial run of that recipe. It came out great and was really yummy, but it wasn’t at all appropriate for this situation. We’re dealing with maybe about 50 people, with buffet tables and everyone needing to grab a bite to eat in the half hour between services. Many of the people will be wearing choir robes. This bread was really, really messy to eat, with all that cinnamon sugar goo coating each piece. And since it’s a pull-apart bread, the servings were defined, but they were a little too big for a situation in which everyone will be wanting to take smaller portions of everything. Plus, it’s served using the fingers, which isn’t great for a big crowd. It would be awesome for a coffee/tea party or a family brunch. For the choir Easter brunch, I think I’ll go to my stand-by of soda bread because I can pre-slice it into smaller bits for easy serving, and it’s not at all messy to eat. You have to wash your hands after eating this cinnamon bread before you can touch anything.
I did pass out some of this bread to people in the choir this Sunday. And now most of the rest is in my freezer. I could have happily lived on it, and that was dangerous.
Meanwhile, in my Friday writing session, I wrote for a couple of hours and ended up with 5,000 fewer words than I started with, and then that night I figured out what I did wrong, which will mean rewriting about 2,000 of the remaining words. I also already know I’m going to need to do a pass focusing on character arcs and adding emotion. But I keep telling myself that the object of this exercise is to create something so good that publishers will fight for it.
In other news, after this week (to give everyone time to catch on and move their bookmarks), I will no longer be updating at the LiveJournal site. I was planning to just wait and migrate it all to the new web site, but they’ve made some administrative changes there, and I don’t want to be involved with that anymore. So you can find my blog at: http://shannaswendson.blogspot.com/
I think today I should be able to get through the changing/revising of what I’ve already written, so that next week I can write new stuff, and I should be able to finish this draft by the end of next week. Yay! Then I may let it rest a bit while I write some shorter pieces. I really want to get this book right, so I’m forcing myself not to get impatient to just have it done.
I’ll be spending my weekend with the fun of finishing my taxes and working on that web design survey so that I don’t have to worry about either next week and can focus on writing.
I may also be making a test/practice batch of my recipe for Easter morning goodies. Since the choir has to sing for three services, we do a kind of potluck brunch for between services, and there’s a recipe I want to try, but I’m a little wary of bringing something that I’ve never made before when it’s not something like cookies, where you can test one.
There are nice things about Easter when you’re in the choir. You have to get there early, so you get a parking space. You have a reserved seat. You don’t have to worry about what you wear because you’re wearing a robe over it. We spend the time between services snacking, so I don’t have to worry about going out to lunch and getting a table anywhere. I can just come home and collapse.
The down side is that there’s a lot of work leading up to it. This year, we’re not doing a lot of big music for Easter itself, just the usual stuff, but are doing a big thing for Good Friday. That’s what all the rehearsals are about, and that’s what I’ll be doing next Friday night.
So now I think it’s time to do some baking. I’m trying a recipe for cinnamon roll pull-apart bread. Basically, you make cinnamon rolls, but then you coat those roll pieces in cinnamon sugar and put the roll dough in a loaf pan. Theoretically, you then pull the rolls off the loaf. The test run is to see how it works and whether it’s too messy. And as an excuse to have it for myself.
The bad thing about having a book boosted into bestseller ranks by something artificial like a BookBub ad is that you then have to watch it very quickly slide back into obscurity. It’s depressing to watch those numbers changing. I have to remind myself that it’s far better than if the ad hadn’t been there in the first place. I just need to get a book that makes it there on its own without any artificial manipulation like a price drop (though with publisher support). That’s one of my career aims.
As part of working toward that goal, I’m about to be getting my web site redone. The designer has a fairly extensive questionnaire so he can better know exactly what I want. I’ve started work on it, but I imagine that’s what I’ll be spending Saturday working on.
The hard part is that he asked who my top competitors are. I thought a good start would be to go to the “people who bought this also bought” for my books, but most of the people who come up aren’t what I’d consider my competition. Most of them are paranormal romances or cozy paranormal mysteries, while I’m trying to position myself in fantasy. I guess I should tell him that. There are some fairly close comparisons in some of my subgenres (especially the YA steampunk), but in fantasy there isn’t a lot that I would put in the same category as my books, which may be part of my problem. Or else the people I get compared to are way out of my league, so trying to compare myself or the kind of website I can afford to get done to them is rather pointless.
I also need to come up with examples of websites I like and don’t like. When it comes to author websites, I can find a lot I don’t like, but few I do like, that have all the information I want in a way that’s easy to find and that doesn’t look too cluttered and doesn’t make me scroll for hours to get to a spot on the page.
Are there any author websites you particularly like or don’t like?
In my last writing post, I talked about some myths — some advice about writing that may or may not be true. Today I’ll give some advice that I think it’s safe to say is absolutely true.
If you want to write, you need to read. If you don’t enjoy reading, then you probably won’t enjoy writing. Reading fuels writing, and loving to read is how most writers are first inspired to want to write. By reading, you internalize all the lessons about story structure, characterization, etc. In fact, I would bet that you’d get more benefit from reading a lot and never looking at how-to books or taking writing seminars than you’d get from studying writing without actually reading a lot.
What should you read? Read widely in the genre you’re writing. Read the classics in that genre so you know the foundations. Read the latest releases, bestsellers, and books by new authors so you know what’s selling now. Read the award winners so you know what’s considered good. Read outside your genre. You can learn a lot about plotting by reading mysteries, a lot about pacing by reading thrillers, a lot about emotions from reading romance, a lot about language by reading poetry. Take another look at the classics you were forced to read in school and try reading them without having to write essays or take tests about them. Read the latest thing burning up the bestseller list. Read non-fiction so you learn about the world and about people.
I may argue with the “write every day” advice, but it’s hard to be much of a writer if you aren’t writing often and regularly. Yes, it’s important to read and study and research, but at some point, in order to be a writer, you have to write something. You have to write a lot. There are some people who are fortunate and talented who sell the first thing they write, but most writers spend a lot of time writing and write a lot of things before they actually get good at it. You wouldn’t expect to be able to play Beethoven sonatas the first time you sit down at a piano, so don’t expect to produce a publishable novel the first time you try to write. There certainly are cases of the industry not recognizing genius, but for the most part, if you’re failing it’s because you’re not good enough yet, and the best way to get better is to write more. Think of it as your practice sessions so that you learn and get good enough to perform in public.
While it is important to write instead of deluding yourself into equating writing-related work with actual writing, it is important to learn about what you’re doing, especially when you start considering publication. I’m constantly surprised and appalled by how many people I talk to who claim to be writing seriously who seem to have absolutely no clue as to how the business works. I was recently at a party and ended up in conversation with an aspiring writer who didn’t realize when I said I was a writer that I truly was a career novelist, and she was boasting about the three books she’d written, but said she didn’t have them published because she couldn’t afford that. She didn’t understand that a publisher pays the writer. I tried to gently educate her about the difference between publishing, vanity press, and self-publishing. If you’re trying to do this, you need to know these things, and it’s ridiculously easy to learn, if you make any effort. Most libraries have a section of books on how to write and how to get published. There are writing organizations like Romance Writers of America and Mystery Writers of America that help educate writers. There are writing conferences and conventions. There’s a wealth of information online for aspiring writers. Many editors and agents have web sites and blogs with advice on publishing. There is no excuse for being uniformed about the industry you’re trying to participate in.
This ties into the “write” advice above, in that it may take you some time and a lot of effort before you see success. You’ll get rejections. You’ll get criticism. You have to decide for yourself whether you can handle this. It’s okay to decide that maybe writing isn’t for you, that it’s not as much fun as it seems, that you don’t want to spend the time it takes to be able to succeed. But you have to be honest with yourself about what’s going on. If you really, truly want it, you have to keep going. You have to carry on and finish that book even though the middle is hard and you just got this other new idea. You have to slog through revisions that aren’t as much fun as the first draft. You have to take rejections and decide to try again and write something new. There’s no guarantee that you’ll succeed if you keep on, but it’s absolutely guaranteed that you won’t succeed if you give up — if you don’t finish something, don’t revise and polish it, don’t keep submitting, don’t write anything else.
So, that’s the quick (well, maybe not so quick) and easy (except not) formula for writing success: Read, write, study, persist.
It’s new book day! Rebels Rising is out now. Go, buy, read!
And before anyone asks, yes, the series will continue. I’m planning at least one more book. How many more will depend on how hard it is to get the characters out of the trouble they’re in. I don’t know when the next book will be coming. I’m tentatively planning to start writing it this fall, but that is subject to change depending on what else is going on in my life and my career, and how long it takes me to write the other things I’m trying to get written. I’m juggling a lot of stuff right now.
Other FAQ stuff:
I don’t know when/if the books in that series beyond Rebel Mechanics will be out on audio. Apparently, the sales of the first one in audio were “modest,” so the audio publisher isn’t jumping to grab rights to the rest. I don’t know how Audible membership sales affect their sales (this one was published by someone else, not Audible), so I don’t know if using Audible credits counts or if they only care about outright purchases, or what. So, anyway, the answer is still I don’t know, and I’m not sure what can be done to change that, other than perhaps requesting that your library get the CDs, which might mean enough sales that they want the rest of the series. The idea with going with that publisher in the first place, rather than Audible, was that they were supposedly good about getting their books into libraries, while Audible was at the time only talking about doing digital versions.
If you can’t find this book at your library or in your library system, you may have to request that they add it to their collection. This is different from requesting it from their collection or putting it on hold. Most libraries have some way for you to tell them about a book you want that they don’t have. You can ask a librarian about that when you visit the library. There may be a form to fill out. Your library system may also have an online form for you to request a book. Look for something like “request to add item to collection.” You just fill in the author, title and whatever other info you have (most of it you can get from the Amazon listing). You can do this for any book, audiobook, movie, CD, etc. They may or may not do it, but they do listen to what patrons want if they think it’s something more than just one person would want. In this case, there’s a pretty good chance they have the first book in the series, so they may just need cluing in that there are more books in that series.
I don’t know exactly when the next book will be out, since I don’t know for certain when I’ll be writing it. I’d guess maybe around this time next year would be likely, but that’s not set in stone.
I tried to spend most of yesterday away from the computer in spite of having a BookBub ad. I do know that I was as high as #83 overall at Amazon and the #14 overall Nook book at B&N. Kind of cool. I think that’s the best I’ve done. Today, it will obviously start sliding and I will have to force myself to ignore it because I have writing to do, and I have a new book coming out tomorrow that I need to do something about. Plus lots of business-type stuff that needs to be done.
We had the final episode of Grimm on Friday, and while I think I’ll miss it, I’m okay with it going. They took a really bad wrong turn in the previous couple of seasons that they couldn’t really recover from. It led to a situation that I couldn’t believe in. It not only seemed out of character for these people, but out of character for people, in general. This is where I have my “reasonable person” rule (as in the standard they mention during jury duty — would a reasonable person make this assumption or decision?) — if a character does, accepts, or believes something that a reasonable person would not, you have to provide an extra strong motivation or reason why this character would do so at this time and in this circumstance. They violated the “reasonable person” rule.
So that’s my Friday nights freed up now. It may be a movie night this week. Or I may go back to my old habit of having a writing marathon on Friday nights. I used to love doing that when I had a day job because that was my best writing opportunity. I’d come home from work, have dinner, then make a pot of tea and write until I couldn’t stay awake any longer. Though I doubt I’ll manage to make it as late as I did when I was 23 or so. Either I’ll do that to make more progress on the primary project, or that will be my “fun” project time — the things I want to play with. Like writing a short story, or playing with a story idea that I’m not sure is viable but I just want to see where it goes.
But first I have to write a book and launch a book and get through this week before I can get to the weekend. Next week is Holy Week, so from Sunday to Sunday it’s going to be incredibly busy for me. I need to charge up this week to be ready.