Would You Like A Craft Post?

It has been quite awhile since I wrote a craft post, and the last post I popped up was just so full of sadz, so I thought I would turn to something that makes a small smile creep up on my face: revision.

Yes, that’s right, I Like Revision. A bit of an understatement. Let me try again. I Live For Rewrites. There. That felt better.

3-first novel

Here is the first page of a novel I started when I was eight. There are clear signs of what kind of writer I would eventually become. Um, that would be the cross outs in case you were wondering. From a very early age, I really enjoyed going back over my stories, my letters to grandparents, my journal entries–anything I’d written, really.

Earlier this week, I clicked on a link that brought me to Chuck Wendig’s Terrible Minds blog. (In his own words, it is full of “lots of naughty language. NSFW. Probably NSFL. Be advised.” So, yeah. Caveat reader.) But I just loved one section of it so much that I did one of those little out-loud Oh! sounds as I was reading. Out loud. I really did. Here is the section I liked, with some expletives deleted:

The first draft is just me dumping all the puzzle pieces out. But it’s still a jumbled image. This part is where the art lives. This is when the story is smashed together, piece after piece. I can make it all make sense!

I just love that image: first draft as puzzle pieces scattered on a table. I know wonderful writers who prefer to craft what will be their final version from their very first go at telling the story. I have tried to be that writer. But my brain refuses to let me be that writer. When I try to get it right the first time, my creative brain takes a vacation in the land of far, far away. The writing is wooden and I lose interest so fast I might even decide to sort the linen closet.

But if I allow myself to work the way my writer brain likes, I actually get ahead.

I guess what I am hoping to convey about craft is that either way is fine. It is up to you to listen to your brain and figure out what it wants you to do.

Mine wants me to throw that first draft down as quickly as possible, riddled with errors and inconsistencies and things that could only, possibly ever be of interest to the work’s creator. (Me.) It is exhausting, writing that first draft. But if I do it this way, it is far less exhausting than if I do it any other way.

Writing really jumbled puzzle-pieces-dumped-out first drafts means I have a ton (a tonne) of work to do later. But that is the way I like it. I sort those pieces. I look for ways to make everything fit, to create that interesting picture that I know is in this mess somewhere.

Have you ever done one of those puzzles where all the pieces are the same shape (except for the edges)? I have. My writing is like that. I put the whole thing together. End revision one. I notice that the stars are at the bottom where they definitely do not belong. I move things. A lot. End revision two. Then I start to suspect the puzzle maker threw in some extra pieces. Look! There they are! Get rid of them! End revision three.

Okay, the analogy is starting to break down, but when I am actually in revision, there are at least two more passes. One for general flow: chapter to chapter, paragraph to paragraph, sentence to sentence. And then a final polish pass where I look for (or create) one sparkling bright bit on each page. This takes time. This takes passion.

And I love every minute of it.

Really, the only part of writing I’m not crazy about is that first draft. But if I am nice to my creative brain, it is a whole lot more pleasant of an experience.

What about you? What habits do you cultivate to be nice to your creative brain?

 

 

Farmers Markets and The Loneliness of the Long Distance Writer (with nods to Willie Nelson and Jane Austen)

Mamas, don’t let your babies grow up to be writers

Don’t let ’em hold pencils and write all that slush

Let ’em be actors and singers and such

I just got back from a month in California where I got to visit a farmer’s market twice each week. Those markets always included a musician or two, which got me to pondering something I’ve been brushing up against a lot, lately. Let’s see if I can put it all down in words. (After I show you this fantastic fruit!)

strawbs

Just before my California sojourn, I attended my second writing conference in as many months. I love hanging with my tribe a couple of times a year. It is good to be in the company of like minds, people who salivate over sentences the way I do.

But I walked away from this last con feeling so sad for the writer’s lot in life. I’ve always lumped writing in with dancing, painting, playing the cello, and so on. We’re all artists. We are angsty and internal; we are driven and haunted by our craft, by our muses; we have this thing that we want to share–we want to know if our art matters.

(Now, there are artists who do not want to share and who don’t care what anyone else thinks of their artmaking. I don’t personally know any artists like this, but I am persuaded they exist. I am not talking about these people, and I hereby beg leave to apologize for leaving them out of my discussion. :P)

At the conference I attended, I heard a clear message. It was a familiar message, but for some reason, this time I found it a bit disheartening. I hope I can summarize it fairly. It goes something like this:

It will take you a very long time to be able to put your art out there. You need to be prepared to have zero audience interaction for each and every piece of art you make for years. Maybe for decades. You should continue to strive to be the best artist you can be, but you will need to do this for love and not for money. Your artmaking must fit into the nooks and crannies after you pay the bills. For a very, very long time.

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When I worked in theater (ten-ish years of my life), there was a lot of work-without-pay, for sure. But I could count on an audience to look at my craft, kind of like the musicians at the Farmer’s Market. You hit a certain level of proficiency with your craft and you start to itch to share what you do. Now, I never saw my costume designs on Broadway, but I made costumes for the local ballet, the Shakespeare festival, the kids’ summer theater. In short, I could get my art out there where it could surprise, delight, and connect with an audience.

Overlapping those years, I also worked as a clothing designer. I was never hired by Calvin Klein, but I sold at street fairs and at juried art shows, and I retailed online and wholesaled to stores. My stuff was out there. I had both an audience and a paycheck to show for it while I was still in the business of improving my craft. In the rag biz, especially, I know I wouldn’t have become such a good designer without the feedback from my customers. (BTW, I sold that company and my designs are still featured here.)

Not all of my artmaking friends make a living with their chosen craft, but most of the artists I know have the opportunity to share their art with other non-artists. That’s what the musicians at the Farmer’s Market are doing. You get feedback on what works (and doesn’t), you have interactions, you find those who appreciate the art and craft you bring to the world.

This is not the case with my writing friends. There is no Novel-in-the-Park. No gallery that will jury their books in. If they share with anyone, it’s at events like the cons I attended, or maybe in a critique group. That is, a writer’s only interactions are with other writers as opposed to with readers.

This strikes me as so different from other kinds of artmaking. For most artists, artmaking does not happen in a void. That is, along the path to becoming self-supporting artists or deciding to make art for free, they have many opportunities to perform or present their craft to an audience. I think we yearn for this as human beings–for those connections. I know I do. I know my unpublished writer friends do.

It made me happy to see the musicians at the Farmer’s Market making those human connections. And it made me sad to listen at my writers conferences where writers were being told, essentially, to put those yearnings for connection with an audience aside for a very, very long time.

I guess this explains why I pushed so hard at the boundaries that exist for writing. I get why Jane Austen borrowed money to have her work published. (Something I do not recommend, for the record!)

What do you think? Should this make me sad or was I just having a bad week?

Time to ‘Fess Up

Here’s the thing. If you’ve followed me in any way, shape, or form in the last five or so years, you’ve probably noticed a certain vagueness as to my age. A certain je ne sais quoi about being une femme d’un certain age. (Okay, I totally abused the sense of the phrase “je ne sais quoi,” but it is such an adorable phrase that I couldn’t resist.)

leaning on Mars

Well, I think it is time, in the words of Puumba, to “Put your behind in your past.” Today I turned fifty. That’s right. Half a freaking century. Born in 1963 when landing on the Moon was still an idea and not ancient history.

When it came to my authorly career, I’ve been embarrassed and worried about my age. I mean, who writes about teenagers when they haven’t been one in decades? (Decades! Plural!)  Can someone with that many birthday candles even remember being a teen? (The short answer is: yes.)

And then I went to see Star Trek: Into Darkness last week. And as I watched, I realized I was one of only a handful of people in the crowded theater who would have seen not only Wrath of Khan when it originally screened, but also Space Seed when it originally ran on air. (Did ya know there was an episode before there was Wrath? Now ya know!)

At that moment, I kind of lost the action of the movie because I was just so struck by how unspeakably cool it was that I’d seen both previous iterations of Khan in one lifetime. And then I found myself wondering how many people in the theater had once had the incredible experience of watching man walk on the Moon for the first time when it was happening! And then, I decided it was actually pretty cool that I’d been around for so many years. I have seen and experienced some really cool shizzle! That’s lucky! That’s incredible!

So, without apology, I now own up to my full fifty years. There. That feels better.

Of course, I’ll still gladly take any advice on how to feel good about aging–there are parts of it that are less-than-awesome. Whatdyagot?

What Do You Call an Author Who…

What do you call an author who forgot to hit “post” on her new book launch announcement?

Um…Busy? Blush-y-faced? Buried in promo?

losingmarsdemo

Heh. Yeah. So, all of the above. Which necessitated a bit of a re-write of said blog post. Losing Mars, Book Three in the Saving Mars Series has, indeed, launched. I’ll tease you with the description:

Some Goodbyes Are More Final Than Others
Jessamyn has survived a terrifying crash but lost her ship, joining Pavel, Ethan, and others in the dissenter settlement of Yucca. Now, Chancellor Lucca Brezhnaya believes Jess is out to destroy the Terran government, and Lucca will stop at nothing to find Jess. The trail of tellurium left in the Mars Raiders’ wake makes them vulnerable to discovery, and when Lucca places a spy in their midst, secrets are spilled that could mean the loss of everything–and everyone–Jess holds dear.

And, dear reader, if you act quickly, you can catch this title on sale on Amazon for 2.99 (reg. 4.99) e-book. The paperback is 12.99 through Amazon and should soon be up on Powells and Barnes & Noble as well.

I think this is the best cover yet in this series. What do you think? Vote in the comments section of the Rafflecopter for a chance to win a signed copy of Losing Mars, paperback for US, ebook for int’l!
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Need a New Crepe Recipe?

 

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Ideas are funny. One morning you’re setting out to make crepes so you won’t have to later, and it occurs to you that instead of making crepes, you could make sourdough crepes! (Yes, this might have happened to me personally.) And OMG do those crepes turn out good! (Note: I am a woman with a camera who doesn’t really know how to use it-apologies for poorly lit photo.)

I am still trying to figure out why I never thought of doing this before. I’ve had a sourdough starter for years. Cooked with the stuff for decades. But it had never occurred to me to sour up that water/flour/egg batter before today.

The whole experience reminded me of the very best part about my experience as a writer. (Apart from people telling me they enjoyed my books :D) My fave moments in writing are those when suddenly everything is clear in a new and surprising way: sourdough crepes! Or: I thought I was going to completely cut this scene, but actually, I’m going to use bits of it in this new way I never imagined until just this moment! Honestly, it can feel like choirs of angels should be descending singing Handel’s Messiah at these times. There it is! The exact solution I didn’t even know I needed.

I tell the story of how Saving Mars first started out with an opening chapter where, rather than land her ship on the president’s dog, Jess allowed herself to crash land while her world’s president looked on, oblivious to the dog’s presence. Now, in the end, I felt this wasn’t the right place to begin the story, so I cut the scene. Much, much later (maybe the fourth revision?) I realized I knew just what to do with some of the ideas from that scene. The “planetary dog”–Mars’s one and only dog–came into being and grew to be hugely important in the action of the book.

So, although my last blog post emphasized Derriere-in-Chair, I will be the first to say that sometimes, sourdough crepes just come at you when you’ve done nothing at all to deserve them.

Do you have a “sourdough crepes” moment from your daily life? (Can be non-writing-based!) I’m feeling the need to give a signed paper copy of CHAMELEON, which features crepes, naturellement! Tell me about your moment below and enter for the signed copy.
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Seen Any Good Movies Lately?

I rented The Words Friday night, looking to completely veg out for a nice way to ease into a relaxing weekend. I’d done my 2000 words for the day, answered all my emails, tweets, and FB notices. I deserved a nice evening with DH.

Which I did not get.

Young Jeremy Irons

There are some things The Words got right—Jeremy Irons’ portrayal of a curmudgeon is nothing short of brilliant. Ben Barnes does a decent young Jeremy. (I know whereof I speak—I used to watch young Jeremy onstage in merry olde England when he and I were both . . . younger.) The cinematography is really luscious if you dig Paris now and in the late 40’s. And what’s not to like about Bradley Cooper’s brilliantly blue eyes and Zoe Saldana’s lovely brown ones?

But.

Here’s the thing. This is a movie that explores a couple of tropes about artists. About writers in particular. So I’m probably way too picky too close to qualify as an ideal viewer. The tropes go something like this: An artist, upon discovering that s/he is not as talented as s/he hoped when confronted by another artist’s more brilliant art-making, decides to pass off brilly-artist’s work as her/his own. The second trope is similar: An artist, after losing a brilliant piece of art and subsequently an important relationship, decides that rather than making more art, it is time to find a less painful occupation. I call them similar tropes because in both cases, an artist decides to stop making art.

Now, I don’t for one minute doubt that either of these things could happen. They could happen. They probably do happen. But why make a movie about writing and spend the entirety chronicling people who DON’T write? Arghh!!! It just made me want to chew nails! Two hours of writers who don’t write—lit with amazing lighting, living in gorgeous spaces, and done with some mighty fine acting to boot. Oh, and a clever three-layers of story like it was a chocolate cake or something.

Basically, I hate stories which perpetuate the idea that writing is about anything other than putting your butt in a chair and WRITING! Because that is what writing is. Butt. Chair. Times 10,000 hours. If you read something which you love so much that you wish you’d written it yourself (like Bradley Cooper’s character), then for goodness’ sake, study how the writer did it! Go to conferences! Read articles and books on craft! Set yourself writing exercises outside of your WIP! Get feedback! Don’t just sit there and stare into the camera with your big, blue eyes!

/rant.

How ‘bout you? Seen any movies that made you want to eat nails good movies lately? I could use a recommend for next weekend. Plus, I will send a signed bookmark to anyone whose reco I take! 😀

Paper Copies, Anyone?

I am a very happy camper right now! This is the proof from Ingram and it is so pretty!

me_w_defying

If you are a librarian, you can order copies from Brodart Company. If you are a reader wanting your own copy, it is available right now through Amazon ,and if you are willing to wait, it should show up at Barnes & Noble within the month. (Sorry, I have no control over when!)

The book’s having a nice reception in the e-world, meantime, which is how I assume someone found it and added it to their list of Hot New Sci-Fi titles! (Thanks, guys!)

So, I guess I should do another giveaway? Signed copy for US residents, e-copy for international. (And BTW, you can get it e-signed–see the linkie to the right for Authorgraph? Coolio!)

‘Kay, that’s all I got for today. Cuz, you know, busy on book three and all! Let’s see…for today’s question: Who is your fave character from FIREFLY? (Answer in comments via Rafflecopter for entry in the giveaway. Alternate question available if you haven’t watched FIREFLY. (And I’m going to have to think a spell on this one, myself.)

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What’s Your Favorite Read of 2012?

I’m going to be a cheating McCheater pants on this post. I know that it looks like I am going to blog about a favorite work of fiction that I read in the calendar year 2012. And I do actually have a few of these.If you are looking for some great reads, you can see what I loved in 2012.

But I’m not going to talk about those books today. Instead, I’m going to say a few things about the most influential-on-me book I read in calendar year 2012. Basically, this blog post will probably be very boring if you are not a writer. Readers, my apologies! Just skip this stuff and look for the giveaway at the bottom of the post. (I love my non-writer readers!)

Full disclosure: I read this book in 2011 before I read it in 2012. And I will probs read it again in 2013. And 2014. (Surely your interest is piqued by now!) What is this book of which I speak, and why was it so influential? (More full disclosure: I supported the Kickstarter campaign that funded this book.)

If you write for children or young adults, you need SECOND SIGHT. Period. You should stop reading this post right now and buy Cheryl Klein’s book. (If you are affiliate-code savvy, you’ll notice this URL has an affiliate code. Affiliate monies from your purchase go to Fill The Shelves–a program that sends books to libraries in Title One schools.) (So you really should buy this book not only because it is made of awesome but also because your purchase will put books on empty library shelves.)

Okay. Back to Klein’s book and a writing retreat trip I took in March, 2012 with my sister. I happened to bring SECOND SIGHT along with me on this trip. My sister, being a bookish sort herself, and having heard me yammer about SECOND SIGHT, decided to read the book.

The trip last March was intended as a “finish-up-Saving-Mars” retreat. And I thought the manuscript looked pretty good. Sure, it needed to go under my story-arc editor’s microscope. Sure it wasn’t done yet. But it was looking pretty good.

Well, one afternoon as we’re sitting by the pool (me marking up Saving Mars, my sister reading SECOND SIGHT), my sister looks up at me and the following convo ensues.

Sister: Where are your character sheets on Harpreet, Mei Lo, and Jess’s parents?

Me: *looks abashed* *mutters something about “secondary characters, not main characters, blah-blah-blah.”*

Sister: ‘Cause I think you didn’t do your homework. Look right here, on page 94 of SECOND SIGHT. Did you answer each of these questions for each of your characters?

Me: Ummmm….

Sister: Let’s make a list of all your characters and you tell me what each one loves, hates, fears, wants, and needs, okay?

Me: Ummmm….that will take a long time.

Sister: *glowers* It says right here in the book *stabs finger on page 94* that you have to do that.

Me: Ummmm…..Okay. I will do it.

(end of convo)

My sister had rightly noted that some of my characters were a bit flat on the  page in the version of SAVING MARS that she’d read.  And she found exactly the part of SECOND SIGHT that could cure that flatness. (My sister is uber smart.) Suffice it to say I did the homework which resulted in major reworking of my manuscript, to its benefit.

Now, if you’ve read the reviews on SAVING MARS and DEFYING MARS, many of them point to my characters as the thing that makes the books soar. So, all that to say: I would not have written a book that went on to receive accolades from Kirkus and placement on a “Best of 2012” list if not for Ms. Klein’s book SECOND SIGHT. (And if not for having an uber smart sister.) And that, my friends, is why SECOND SIGHT wins hands-down as my “most influential read of 2012.”

Do you have a favorite book from 2012? Tell me what it is in the comments for a chance to win your choice of a signed copy of SAVING MARS or a (not signed) copy of Cheryl Klein’s SECOND SIGHT.

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Getting the Gold Sticker Star

Did you not love these as a kid?

I know I did. Well, apparently adults can get them, too. A couple of months ago I was all excited when Kirkus (who have a TM on this: The World’s Toughest Book Critics) (I am not making that up) gave my book a Starred Review.

I’m even more excited to report that they added my title to their annual list of 100 Indie titles to be named to Kirkus Reviews’ Best of 2012. As far as I can tell, twelve of those are children’s titles. And mine’s easy to find! So skedaddle on over there and read the review if you haven’t already. (I’ll wait.)

And if you would like to read the book itself but you’re afraid you might not like it because it is Science Fiction (you know who you are), how about trying it out for FREE? Yup. I could only think of one way to celebrate my gold sticker star. So grab an e-copy and party with me today.

I’m curious if anyone actually uses gold sticker stars anymore. It has been . . . awhile since I was in elementary school. Anyone know if they are in circulation currently?I feel another giveaway coming on as well. Would you like to gift a SIGNED paper copy of SAVING MARS to someone for the Holidays? Chime in on the gold sticker mystery below.

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When First Lines Matter

I’ve been mulling over what to talk about at my upcoming Book Launch Party for my second book in The Saving Mars Series—DEFYING MARS. Now, I happen to know there will be a sizeable number of people there of whom it could be said, “Fans of Sci/Fi, they are not.” (Nor, I suspect, do their desks look like this.)

So that got me to thinking about how, when I wrote the first book, I told myself, “I’ve got to work extra hard to make sure the characters are front and center—and unforgettable.” Okay, that might have been something my sister said to me (in the imperative form) now that I think about it… But in either case, I wrote with the idea firmly in my mind.

I knew the book would have a title that SCREAMED Sci/Fi and was pretty sure the cover art would reflect that as well. But I didn’t have a following of people who were committed readers of Sci/Fi. No, I had readers who loved my contemporary fantasy and occasionally remarked upon its almost Sci/Fi feel.

What to do?

Well, it all came down to that first line, really. I figured I would either gain or lose readers based on the first paragraph, and even more particularly, based on that first line. Do any of you remember it?

She was the kind of girl who slept with books on her bed.

See what I did there? If you’ve read the blurb or looked at the cover, you know this is a book about a firecracker pilot obsessed with flying. Who lives on Mars. That makes her pretty hard to relate to for, oh, say, 99% of my readers. So I didn’t want to start my book with a line like, “She was the sort of pilot who took action first and apologized later.”

And while the above statement is true about Jessamyn, there are other statements that describe her in a way that is more relatable to my existing audience (and to new readers, as well.) So I went with a couple of paragraphs talking about her addiction to reading—something most readers can relate to.

This isn’t to say that all first lines must be relatable. Let’s take a look at the first line of my first book, RIPPLER:

The screaming was the first clue that I’d turned invisible again.

Now, most of us can’t relate to the kind of invisibility Samantha is talking about in that opening line. But Sam, unlike Jess, is a girl set in a very familiar world. We did a very recognizable kind of cover for that book: girl in flowing white dress facing away. This book’s cover and title appeal to an existing readership within YA. (Readers of paranormal romance and fantasy.) So I wanted that first line to be a bit more pick-you-up-and-shake-you-by-the-shoulders.

So there you have it. Even if you can’t make it to Eugene, Oregon for my Book Launch Party, now you can pretend you heard me give the above talk. (Read it aloud if that helps.)

What are some of your favorite first lines? Here’s one of mine:

“It is the first day of November and so, today, someone will die.”

Enter the Rafflecopter giveaway below for a chance to win a hardcover copy of the book which starts with those words. If I get over 25 comments, I’ll give away my signed and doodled copy, even. (Signed and doodled by the author—not by me!)

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