The reasons for this blog: 1. To provide basic author information for students, teachers, librarians, etc. (Please see sidebar) 2. I think out loud a lot as I work through writing projects, and I'm trying to dump most of those thoughts here rather than on my friends.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

I did work yesterday for a few hours, and am settling down to work today, after too much pathetic avoidance. But I'm looking at the ms and am confused. The only thing I see for sure is that I'm spending more time than I should on the guys and very nearly no time on the girls. That's obviously not going to work and will have to be fixed at some point.

But I don't know how to figure out what I need to work on now. I don't know whether to try sorting out the ms starting from where I was yesterday, or to skip ahead and do something I understand better.

I guess I'll just poke at the ms with a stick till something comes to mind.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Today is one of those days where I don't want to write at all, because it feels pointless. It feels like whatever I write will not be good enough to sell, and even if it is good enough for that, it will be as invisible after it's published as it was before. Who wants to spend time trying to write something good and not only failing, but failing in public? Because everybody knows that cream rises to the top, and if you don't rise to the top it's because you're a loser. If you aren't known, it's because you're not good enough. If you can't make a living at writing, it's because you aren't good enough. You are a loser with a capital L and a capital E. Lose. Er.

I have no argument to make about any of that--just thought I'd get it off my chest before I force myself to write.

And so, back to the WIP. I think I'm somewhere around p. 12?

Friday, November 28, 2008

Something came up on Wed. re. a potential w-f-h job, so I've been having to work on that. However, I did write a little on my WIP yesterday--trimmed up and rearranged according to new parameters. Today, the same.

Is it any better than it was? Who knows. Anyway, tonight I looked at a fairly sizable chunk and thought: Do I really need this? At the moment, I'm thinking not. I need to look at it again, tonight or tomorrow--and if I don't see any immediate use for it, out it goes.

There's a lot of stuff I love and enjoy working on, but I can't baby this ms and keep stuff that doesn't have any purpose whatsoever--and more than that, leads the reader away from the parts that do have purpose.

Sometimes liking something a lot even when it doesn't seem to fit means that it really does fit, that my gut knows something my brain doesn't. But really doesn't fit. Sad but true.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

I think today's going to be busy, too. I think this whole week may be busier than I thought.

Last night I reworked a little bit, keeping the new basic plan for that very first few pages in mind. Last night I was working on "modesty," which is kind of hard because I have to define it to mean diffident and unassuming rather than hiding your body parts, and I don't want to spend one split second more on explanation than I have to. Then I'm trying to figure out how to tie in an example of being semi-immodest. This example was part of a larger series of scenes a little later, but now I'm looking at whether I can break that series up and make it more than just pages and pages of la-di-dah skipping merrily along without tension or conflict. I don't know if the way I'm heading provides enough tension, but dang, it's got to be more than it was--which was ZERO.

Well, even if there's not enough tension, at least this is a step toward trying to get it.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Busy day. No writing yet but I still plan to get some in somehow. Met with writer friends in person and discussed WIPs; it seems several of us are working through similar problems about how to deal with structure and pacing. Sometimes my mind latches onto an interesting problem about somebody else's WIP and does not want to let go; this is good as long as the other person wants to keep hashing it out, but not so good if they want to drop it but are too polite to say so.

A lot of the time it's much easier to look at somebody else's WIP in a big-picture way than my own because I haven't been immersed in their WIP 24/7 so that trees and forest are all melted together in one big indistinguishable lump. And I don't have that feeling with other people's WIPs that I get with my own, like "God, here's another thing I have to try that probably won't work any more than the other ten billion things I already tried that sucked, but I have to give it a go anyway because there's a possibility it really might be the one thing that does work, or at least gives me a push in the direction of the one thing that really does work." With other people's WIPs, it's all of the interesting stuff and none of the drudge and toil and backtracking and frustration.

One WF, an accomplished author/illustrator, is embarking on a first novel. That means this WF has no idea what his/her process is. Could be outlining and writing in order, could be leaping around, could be plot-driven or character-driven or theme-driven. Process is a very individual thing, I think, and the only way to find out what yours is is to feel it out as you're working. But I do wonder, can you change your own process? I've heard of people doing that, to greater or lesser extents. I want to be able to write a plot, so I'm wondering if there's some hybrid way to pull two processes together; like I can't outline to save my life, but here I've got this story I want to tell that's dead on the page because I'm not doing my usual process. There must be some way to use my strengths but with a slightly different approach. I just don't know what that approach is.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Okay, so I sat down with the pp. 8-13 and three highlighters and a pen. I made a list of the points I might possibly be making, or need to make:

1. feeling of tedium/being closed in
2. introducing or fleshing out characters
3. setting the world.

I also listed

4. hook/tensions

but of course there aren't any of those in this part because it's boring, so that quickly dropped out of consideration.

So I highlighted the lines in pp. 8-13 according to which point they fell under, and was surprised how many did nothing at all for the story in any way whatsoever. I went back and deleted almost all those.

With all that deadwood cleared away, it hit me that a good way to organize this section might be by looking more closely at something I already have in there--and have always had in there; it's not new. And that is the idea of good girls having to be hardworking, obedient, and modest. I use those terms over and over, but I never define them in any way. It could be that needs to be done, and this is a place to do it.

Tonight I revised pp. 8-13 to show what "hardworking" means. Tomorrow--or the next day, or whenever I get time--I'll see if I can cull some later scenes and pull them up here to show what "obedient" means. Or "modest." I'm not sure. It may not work, but it's worth thinking through and experimenting with.

Now that I consider a bit more...I have a section a little further in called "Good Sons." Will have to mull all this over.
Busy day today; no writing yet and it's already dark out. I did talk to a writer friend, and in complaining was forced to verbalize what's currently bugging me about this WIP. However, no solutions leapt to mind.

Perhaps the thing to do is go over these first 13 or however many pages with a fine-toothed comb--or highlighters?--and cruelly mark everything that doesn't really matter. Somehow, I feel, I've got to get a grip on the heart of this thing.

I think I said I was going to be merciless yesterday, but I got sidetracked into research and since I never could find any of the details I needed, the whole writing day was pretty much a frustrating waste of time. I was hoping the details would give me focus--and I think they would have--but they just weren't out there.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

...and I was horrified to find that I'm out of Diet Pepsi. I am forced to work with Lemon Diet Pepsi at my side, because I refuse to be so pathetic as to make a trip to the store just for a drink to write with, so I'm using an old opened bottle of Lemon Diet Pepsi that I bought accidentally but didn't throw away because I thought the kids might drink it, but they didn't.

Grump, grump, grump.
Yesterday I printed out the first I-don't-know-how-much (maybe 50-70 pages?) and was going to read through. But suddenly I found that I loathed the entire ms with the fire of a thousand suns and could not bear to look at it. I was going to force myself, but then I didn't. I reread some manga instead.

So today I sat down and started reading, still loathing it, and by p. 8 or 9 decided it's awful, loose and meandering and making no points, so I'm going to "save as" under another name and then butcher the damn thing, and try to get this very first section down to something a lot tighter and clearer and sharper than it is. I've got pages 1-13 in front of me, and the first four aren't going to change much, but the rest I'm going to go after with a cleaver. Although I guess I'd better back up the last version before I do that, because I'm sure to need it later, for scavenging if nothing else.

I think maybe one tough thing is that this isn't contemporary and the entire point of the book and understanding of it relies on the reader having a good grip on the world the story is set in--the physical layout of things and the attitudes and the organization of the society. But there's just too much of that and it's dragging the whole thing down. I need a strong feeling from every page, and it's just not there.

So, to work.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Today I skipped to a part near the end of the middle and pulled together bits from the GN version and the very, very first incomplete version where I was sketching out ideas. There are only a few scenes where I have material from both, so it gives me a spectrum of styles to play with.

I'm deeply concerned about the flow of this thing--about it being dull and slow and not at all interesting. However, unless some epiphany hits me, I don't see anything to do but press on and deal with that later.

long tedious post again

With fall break starting today, I'm hoping/planning to get a good amount of uninterrupted writing hours in over the next week and a half. So I'm going to take a little time to consider some stuff, not pertinent to my WIP, but pertinent to writing in general.

I know this has got to be one of the most boring and technical writing blogs out there, and that it has nothing to offer other writers promotionally speaking. So I was a little surprised that anybody at all started, much less made it through that long self-absorbed post the other day, to get to the part where I commented on people who say YA didn't exist when they were teens. I'd actually gone back after a while and cut the name-calling bit and just left the negative snarkiness, because that made the same point without being rude and childish to people I don't even know. Then I got a few e-mails from writer friends who had read it and were happy I said it. I know from ten+ years of internet experience what that means: many times that number of people read it and are probably p*ssed or hurt or resentful, but won't or can't say anything to my face.

But I stand by that opinion: if you think YA only started when you started reading it as an adult, then you need to wake up and smell the coffee.

However, I started thinking about why this annoys me so much--enough to lump a bunch of people I don't know into a group and cuss at them. That's quite a knee-jerk reaction. One thing, I guess, is that some of the ground-breaking work in YA was and is near and dear to me, and I take it personally when it's treated as if it never existed. Another thing is that I've been lucky enough to meet some of the old guard (I don't consider myself old or new guard, but sort of a fringe participant who doesn't really enter into the big picture) and it makes me utterly humble to see their commitment to writing for writing's sake, and to the writing community. You will never see anyone with feet so firmly planted on the ground as a YA writer who's been at it for 15+ years. These are people who wrote in ways no one else had ever dared to write before, and if we now have the creative freedom to write how we want about what we want, it's due to those who published before us.

But I also think that almost anytime you dig into any writer, you're going to hit fear. Or maybe I should say if you dig into any writers that are actually in the rough-and-tumble, vibrant world of trying to sell their writing in a competitive market, you will hit fear. I figure this is why some people say they're writers (or will be one of these days!), but never actually write--that way they get a good ego-boost without risk. But almost every working writer I've ever met is afraid of something (and I suspect I just don't know the others well enough to be privy to this kind of info). Even the ones you'd think aren't afraid. Writers with critical acclaim are afraid they aren't good enough because their fans seem not to be teens and their sales aren't remarkable. Writers with lots of sales are afraid they aren't good enough because they don't have literary acclaim. Writers with both acclaim and sales are afraid it's going to end and they'll be humiliated because that means they aren't good writers anymore and maybe they never were, because if you're any good it shouldn't end.

Writers have infinite ways to torture themselves, and generally they do.

So I think maybe "They never had YA before" people scare me, and perhaps make me feel threatened. They must, right? Why else would I be so knee-jerk vehement? I've got a couple of special needs kids; there are certain things I don't lose patience with easily, and people who ought to know better is usually one of them.

Considering further, I think it must be about...I don't know what to call it. (If you are new to writing and don't like jaded stuff, quit reading now. NOW. You have been warned.) When I started trying to get published, I thought that books were forever. I thought that children and books are both ways of leaving your mark, of saying, "I was once here on this earth." Now I know that books have a lifespan; they fade and die. Some of them never even really get to live; they are published but don't get on shelves and either don't get reviewed or their reviews are buried by other more celebrated books, so they can't fade because they're faded before they even leave the warehouse. Anyway, I have accepted the fact that my books are likely to die before I do.

I also believe that this is true of all but a few books that are out right now. I worked in a bookstore in the early and mid-eighties, and then again in the early nineties. Both times I ran or helped run the YA section. But if I go in a bookstore now, I will find neither the books that were big sellers then, nor the ones that got critical acclaim. This must be true of adult books as well, because have you ever seen a list of bestsellers from 30, 40, 50 years ago? Or the list of Pulitzer Prize winners? Most of the titles bring a collective scratch of the head nowadays. To me, history says that today's NYT bestseller will one day be available only through sellers of used books on Amazon (side note to NYT bestselling authors and members of boy bands: bank some of your money now).

It bothers me to know that my books are not going to be immortal. And I think that when somebody says there was no YA till now, it also erases every writer that ever meant anything to me and influenced me. It's like, not only do my books not count, but my entire creative trajectory never existed. And those people I connected with, who touched me? They weren't there, either.

Oh--I know what it's like! It's like in Back to the Future where Michael J. Fox's picture of his family shows them slowly being erased. It feels like my family is being erased: Michael Cadnum's Calling Home, Shelley Stoehr's Crosses, Chris Lynch's Iceman, Erika Tamar's Fair Game, Ouida Sebestyen's The Girl in the Box, William Sleator's House of Stairs, John Marsden's So Much to Tell You, Nancy Garden's Annie On My Mind, Cynthia Voigt's The Runner, Rob Thomas' Rats Saw God. Robert Cormier, Paul Zindel, Richard Newton Peck, Norma Fox Mazer, Virginia Hamilton, Robert Lipsyte, Chris Crutcher. And more; even now writer friends introduce me to their family of inspiration, so I get an even bigger sense of things slipping away.


And not only that. Just like with Michael J. Fox, it means one more thing: I'm next.

What does that say, if people don't know what boundaries have been stretched? Does that mean the YA genre is a tired, dead thing that just repeats itself over and over? Maybe that's okay, since a new crop of teens isn't going to know that their favorite book is a retread of something that was done better by someone else ten, fifteen, twenty, thirty years ago. Does it even matter? I mean, it does to me, and I don't plan on changing my attitude about it. But look at the turnover in editors. If it wasn't for child labor laws I think the publishers would actively be shooting for an average age of twelve; if you're an experienced, old-school, book-loving editor you'd better watch your bottom line because those young uns with a flair for marketing come cheap. Look at the young librarians coming up who have to keep their finger on the pulse of what is new and fun and hot so they can get kids to read instead of going online or play video games. Look at booksellers who only see the few books pre-chosen for a month-long shot at selling. With all that, does it even matter, in a larger sense, if anybody knows what came before in YA?

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Mostly did housekeeping-type rewriting today, shifting things slightly in parts I've already done, trimming it up, cut it up and putting it together differently, changing emphasis to see how it looks. Just a lazy writing day--no earthshattering work, but hopefully productive in the long run.

long tedious post--you have been warned

This morning while driving Son #2 to school, I was thinking some more about the differences I noticed between those two scenes yesterday, and I think it might be important. The first scene is an event that comes from the research; it also fits well as a plot point that moves the story in the direction I want it to go--and I should be able to use it to drive the emotional story as well. Honestly, if it was just me, I probably wouldn't have it in there because it's so far from anything I've experienced. I have already watered it down a little for two reasons: to avoid pulling the reader off track from the direction I want them to go; and to try to make it more accessible for me.

The second scene is a much smaller event that I have experienced. I noticed yesterday that the moment I started working on it, I could see how to tie it in to the larger flow and use it as a clear step in driving the emotional story (and theme) forward.

I was very struck by how the first scene is a big blank for me, a sticking point that brings me to a halt. And the second one just slides in like it's been greased. And I started thinking that most of my books are a series of very small events that I do have emotional access to.

I was thinking about my first published book, Breaking Boxes. BB is mostly a series of small events, like getting detention or walking home from school or jogging. But the original ending was not what it is now. I didn't know how to end it, so I figured it out with my head and it was a big suicidal standoff with police and sirens and flashing lights. Now, BB was in the Delacorte contest, which meant it got read by multiple editors. In my first rewrite letter, my editor quoted another editor, who said that my ending "prevented the book from having its true ending." When I first saw that, I got p*ssed. I thought, "How can anybody else know what the 'true' ending of my book is and isn't?" I was p*ssed for a very short time, maybe only a couple hours. Then I started thinking. Gradually I felt out what might really happen, given the characters and what needed to happen to satisfy the character arc.* I was like, well, I already know that the character needs to break; so okay, what is already set up here that might drive him to the breaking point? There were a few things already in place, small things that might naturally add up to break him. So anyway, now BB has its current ending, which isn't perfect, but I think it does flow naturally and make emotional sense.

I was thinking about my swordfighting WIP, the one giving me fits. By its nature--this ms is me trying to learn to write plot--the story and turning points come from my head and not my gut. There is a series of events (there are a series of events?--h*ll, I dunno, take your pick, and thank g*d I don't have comments turned on), and the MC reacts to them. I have never experienced any of what happens to him. None of it is small in the way most events in my books are small. Like, say, in Repossessed, the demon tries to pet Shaun's cat and the cat scratches him. That is a very small thing--but I can connect with it, and I tried to apply meaning to it and use it as a continuing thread in the larger story, probably beyond what anybody ought to get out of being scratched by a cat.

In the swordfighting ms, I can't get to this connection, this natural, instinctive understanding of how it feels to have the story events happen to me. And perhaps because I lack that, the story is having trouble coming to life. It's just a bunch of writing, not a living thing that jumps off the page and grabs you and sucks you in.

I know that (I'm guessing) 90% of what I write is bad. I'm not talking about the finished books, because those are out there for other people to judge; they're past history. I'm saying that if you added up what I end up with from each day's writing, it's at least 90% bad, and actually it's probably more than that, but I'll be kind to myself today and say it's only 90%. I think one thing that makes my writing get better--makes it good enough to publish--is when I connect to it emotionally and draw out the emotional threads that run through the events of the story. Because I connect to it, it can make the reader feel what I'm feeling.

Some other authors can do this with big plot points that come from their heads. They are somehow able to hook those plot points up with their emotions so that it all becomes real and touches the reader. But now I'm thinking that my ability has lain mostly with very small things, daily-type things--in drawing those out and making something bigger out of them. I mean, look at Night Road. My connection with that is really small stuff, like driving a car for hours a day, or doing laundry, or swimming in a hotel swimming pool. I mean, for g*d's sake, these are vampires--and look how I dramatized them! I took those weensy mundane things and tried to draw meaning out of them and make them add up to something. With vampires--it boggles the mind, now that I'm thinking about it.

Most of my turning points are emotional, and they happen with very little going on in plot. I suppose I could say that this is how I do things and I might as well accept it. But I don't want to. I want to be able to take a story line that interests me and be able to immerse myself in it emotionally, and to immerse the reader, too. And the difference between these two events in my former GN--the unfamiliar event I can't connect with, and the later one that I can--is this whole struggle in a nutshell. It's me trying to move from connecting instinctively with small events I know well, to connecting emotionally with head-driven plot points that make utter sense and ought to work.

I'm not sure what to think about it. If other writers weren't doing this second thing every day, I'd say it can't be done or isn't any good. But by g*d, they are--and doing it quite well.

So I guess maybe the thing to do is see if I can feel out an approach to this sort of scene/point. See if there's some way to connect--maybe try to seek out some small aspect that I can totally relate to, and then expand that? I think that's what actors do sometimes, to flesh out their roles. I don't know. But if I can work out an approach for this one bit in this ms, it surely ought to help with the swordfighting ms.

And I'm telling you, every time I think I can't do something and ought to quit futzing around and just stick with what I already am comfortable with, I think about all the stuff I want to do with that swordfighting ms. It's the first of a series--a SERIES, I say defiantly!--and by g*d I want to go into manga territory novelistically (I don't think that's a word; well, it is now) and do some of the stuff mangas do with character and series arcs and moral spectrums. And when I think about that, I just clamp my mouth tight, duck my head down, and keep on.

* A big inspiration for me at this time was Bruce Clements. Never met him, don't know anything about him, but his books had wonderfully natural yet satisfying endings, smooth as silk. I was in awe. I say this because we stand upon the shoulders of giants; there are gazillions of us YA writers now, but we would not be here if it wasn't for the writers who broke ground for us, both in eye-catching ways and in quiet ones.

And while I'm on the subject, I will go ahead and say what I know I shouldn't: If you are a YA writer and you think "they didn't have YA when I was a teen" then you are a slap in the face of those who paved your way, and you should be ashamed of yourself.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Had a pretty busy day, and then got too tired to write, but I pulled up the ms anyway and scrolled to a random scene and piddled with that a bit. Coincidentally it's a pretty emotional scene that I can write about from experience, but now I wonder if maybe sometimes it's easier to make people feel something if it didn't happen to you, because then you can make up stuff that provokes the proper emotions without getting bogged down in "but that's not how it really was."

No, on second thought, I think I'm probably just being lazy because I'm tired. And because I don't particularly want to write about that event. However, even in my tired state I see that I can use this as a huge emotional turning point because I know it from the inside out. Therefore, that is what I will do.

And now I see that this is the problem with the earlier huge emotional turning point that I'm having trouble with because I haven't experienced it. In this later scene, tonight's scene, my head automatically goes to the effects of the event, and how it changes outlook and attitude. But with that earlier thing I haven't experienced, I don't know what it's like so my mind just hits a big blank as soon as it's done. Hmm.

In other news--well, not news, but I don't know what to call it--I was talking to a writer friend about violent female characters, and today I read the latest Fullmetal book (I think it's #17), and lo and behold, here is Major Armstrong's sister (she's a good guy, and a leader of good guys) hacking a guy to death with her sword. Afterward she wipes the bloody sword on her officer's dress gloves, takes off the gloves, and tosses them carelessly away. A loyal subordinate hands her a clean pair and she takes them without a thank you as she calmly gives orders to pave the dead guy over in concrete and make sure there's no trace of him. It sounds awful, but it's very cool.

I swear, I want to do a character like that. I want to do a heroic female character who is decisive and utterly without remorse. Who does not have a secret soft spot for sweet orphans or the weak or lonely old blind grandfathers. Who only respects those who have earned it from her. Not a soft bone in her body, not a single solitary molecule of maternal feeling or need to be supportive of others--only cool decision and steadfast resolve.

And I don't want there to be some big issue about how she's had to give up something most women have in order to be this way, or had some womanly thing taken from her and now she's pissed.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Barely got any writing done on my WIP. Not enough to even be able to claim I did anything; I pulled it up and started looking at it but then two jobhunting things came up suddenly, and I got asked to do a quickie w-f-h sample. So I did all that, and barely dipped a toe into my WIP. If my WIP was a pool, I could not tell you what the temperature of the water was, that's how quick the dip was.

Monday, November 17, 2008

I took yesterday off from writing on purpose. Just decided to take a break, no reason. Today I somehow ended up back at the scene I'd lost focus on a few days ago, and suddenly had no problems with it. For some reason, it was a lot clearer and I had no trouble seeing the big picture. I guess that could be because I took a day off. But I wonder if skipping around in the ms is actually a good way to go, if it helps me see things in more of a snapshot-y, broken-up way--which is the way I want to see this. I'm not going to go so far as to say that working on a different area of the ms every day should be my plan of attack, but it's something to keep in mind. Because I freakin' hate getting stuck. The ms is this inert mass when it should be stretching to take form, and I feel my life ticking away while I just sit there watching it, knowing it needs me to do something, only neither of us knows what.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

I finally worked on rewriting my essay a little today per suggestions from writer friends, but quickly realized that I'm probably going to have to outline or something to get my thoughts in better order so I can make my points clearly. It seems I just don't have the expertise--or perhaps the native intelligence--to nail an essay without a lot of work.

It doesn't bother me if it's simply that I'm not smart enough to dash off a ravishingly intellectual essay at odd moments, because I always figure a little bit of a knack and a lot of will power can make up for not being the sharpest tool in the shed.

So I worked on that a little, then set it aside and picked up my former GN, and got a page or two done--short but satisfying; still got that clean, crisp, simple feeling about it. Long may this continue.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Today went pretty well. I pulled the last section from the GN, stuck it in the new ms, and trimmed it up to get it ready for rewriting. But then I didn't feel like rewriting it so I moved to the second section (or so) and worked on that. What I did today (on that second section) feels sharp and crisp and meaningful, compared to the lollygagging first part I've been winding my way through. At some point this huge difference in style and voice and pacing will have to be resolved, but I'm not sure how.

Part of the difficulty is the lack of tension and conflict in the first part--I suppose I could eventually try snarking it up, because there is plenty to dig around in and snarkify, if I want. It's just that the voice would completely change. Argh. I don't know. I have to set up all this stuff in the first part--establish setting and world, establish characters, establish comfort and security so that I can demolish it later--and setting stuff up can be so boring.

I'm reminded of Penderwicks, with its scrumptious gingerbread and comfort and security that's about a mile in circumference and so thick you can barely breath while reading the book. Yet it totally held me--glued me to the page, in fact. Why??? I wonder if I still have the book, or if I lent it to somebody. Maybe I'll check. Or maybe I'll just keep working and wait till I'm back to the first section again before I go off on a wild Penderwick chase. Because I think the third section is going to have yet another feel to it, different from the first two, and if it does, my problems will be multiplied.
I feel very uneasy about picking up where I left off yesterday. So today, the choices are a) power through anyway, b) print out and read to see if that gives me some momentum, or c) skip to later in the ms. I think I'm going to skip, because I don't feel right about powering through today, and I don't think printing out is going to help any.

It seems likely that part of the problem is that I'm coming up on this big emotional deal that's also a plot point the ms needs to make. I'm out of my league emotionally and the plot thing is making me question my whole premise. So I think I'll skip and see if I can get my feet back under me on both counts. Maybe I can work backwards in chunks, and over time that will whittle the parts that cause me unease down to small manageable bits between nice big sections that I feel good about.

Thursday, November 13, 2008


When your books are published as YA, there's the whole issue of audience. I tend not to think about audience very specifically, but it looks to me like--in general--the younger the reader, the shorter the attention span (and the less ability to make inferences). I'm 46 years old and pretty cynical, and what holds my attention may bore the cr*p out of a ninth grader. I've also noticed that many of the books that enthralled me when I was a teen don't quite do the job now. Of course, some of that may be because writing has ruined me for reading and it's hard to get caught up in fiction at all anymore.

Anyway, this is all something to keep in the back of my mind as I work on this ms.
Got a couple hours of work in. The ms feels too loose and draggy, but I'm not going to worry about that until it's so boring that it brings me to a halt. There is always the possibility that once it's a first draft, I can go back and trick it up and make it more grabby just by sheer force of craft. I remember I was getting so freakin' bored with Repossessed and knew it wasn't pulling me through, and at some point I went back and inserted a ticking clock. In that case it was a sense of "Uh-oh, he's in trouble, because the powers that be are about to come get him!" Of course, they weren't, but I used that because it looked to me like if I didn't, everybody who tried to read the book would fall asleep in the middle of it. I know I was falling asleep while trying to write it.

It would be nice if you could just write what you loved and your love meant that everybody else was going to be as interested in it as you are, but unfortunately that's not the case. I guess maybe that's one of the points of having books and movies: they don't reflect real life at all because they don't string out with lots of non-related cr*p in between the good stuff. They sometimes pretend to reflect real life, but really they encapsulate whatever it is they want to say in one carefully constructed, digestible, palatable, and hopefully intriguing dose.

And I hope that this ms's laxness and tendency to amble along is something that can be remedied with deliberate craft, but I fear it may not be. I may end up seeing that I'm not telling the story correctly and that I have to overhaul the entire structure. Yes, the whole stinkin' thing.

Fingers crossed for the craft fix.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The snapshot image seems to be working for today. I can see that my voice is all over the place, but will not worry about that just yet. Because of the subject matter I'm also having to write highly emotional experiences that I know nothing about, and I hate feeling like I'm trolling other people's crises and tragedies for plot points. It's very difficult to be honest, sensitive, real, and thorough if you haven't experienced something yourself--it can be done, and has been done, but rarely, because it means the writer has to work overtime from every conceivable angle, plus ferreting out all the angles most people would never think of. I know I get angry when I see writers skimming through a story, all moaning and whining dramatically over stuff I live every day when they clearly haven't got a clue. So in this ms I'm trying to back off that as much as I can--and probably ending up half@ss and wimpily in the middle.

If you get down to it, I suppose all fiction is really trolling and dramatic moaning and whining. That doesn't absolve us of responsibility, though.
Very antsy, having trouble settling in to write. Something doesn't feel right. Hmm, hmm, hmm. Let me think.

I think maybe it's that the part coming up is a long in-scene section that doesn't fit the style and tone of what's come before. It's all dialog-y and spread out--really, it's very normal prose, and maybe that's what's bothering me. So maybe what I need to do is think in snapshots rather than focusing on the flow of conversation? I often start scenes with this kind of bare-bones dialog and build up from there to a fully fleshed-out true scene. Maybe this time I need to go at it with a different mindset and build it in a different way, with a different goal in mind. Hmm. Not sure.

So...snapshots. Maybe I can look at what the characters are saying--and what I want to say--and tease out the main points and break them up and see if I can get one point per page.

At this rate, the book is going to be a thousand pages long.

I missed a day of Pepys, and when I went to catch up, there was this:

"...another neighbour of ours, Mr. Hollworthy, a very able man, is also dead by a fall in the country from his horse, his foot hanging in the stirrup, and his brains beat out."

This is in Pepys' usual mix of matter-of-fact commentary about how his day went. The "also dead" refers to a previous item about a neighbor dead of plague.

I wonder if Mr. Hollworthy got thrown while he was out alone, and later somebody found him dangling gruesomely. And now that very able man's entire life is one gruesome remark in the diary of somebody who's been dead for three hundred years.

But you know, that's more than most people get.

Anyhoo, off to write.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Got pretty much through the first section today--up to the first turning point, where the tone changes from that sweet mid-grade feel to sex, violence, and snark. Obviously I will have to reconcile all this at some point, but not now. It's also obvious that I have some major trimming and tightening to do--and probably more rearranging--but I hope I don't do any of that yet, either. I hope I continue on, whether moving straight into the aftermath of what just happened, or skipping to something farther along. We'll see what happens tomorrow, I guess.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Went back to the beginning and cut everything up smaller, breaking it into more "chapters." Also rearranged some bits. I feel better about the ms now, like my feet are back on the ground--or at least closer to the ground than they were yesterday, anyway.

I've got to try not to lose track of what it is I want to do with this ms. When I get that far away, I start to wonder why I'm even writing it.

Maybe there's a lesson in here to apply to my swordfighting ms. Although I don't quite know what, or how.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Barely did any writing yesterday--just enough so I could say I did. It doesn't feel right, and I was thinking about the ms last night and realized that in spite of all my blather about not having transitions, that's exactly what I've been wrestling with the past few days. So of course it doesn't feel right; I'm pushing it in the wrong direction, I'm doing the same old sh*t I always do. So today I thought some more and decided I've got to back up and simplify, simplify, simplify.

I'm going to cut the earlier sections up smaller than they are; I've got too many concepts I'm trying to shovel in here so my "chapters" are turning into regular novel chapters that run on and on. I can't always get each page standing completely alone by itself, but I've got to stay very light, clean, and simple. I want the reader to be able to look at this the same way they can look at red or black figure vases and see a series of strong concepts, clean lines, precise details, simplicity.

I am pretty annoyed with myself for projecting my thoughtless habits onto this ms, like I'm an assembly line for novels, a robotic machine that punches them out the same way every time. This ms deserves better than that.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Got sidetracked into research, so not much actual writing. Am still looking up stuff. Am not sure of the line between thoroughness and neurotic inability to quit looking stuff up.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

I thought I'd have a nice long uninterrupted writing session today, but things have cropped up and I'll have to squeeze patches of writing in here and there. I guess it doesn't matter that much because yesterday I worked on getting the first section smoothed out so I could read the whole thing--but it's taking longer than I thought, as usual. It'll take at least a couple of days to get that done.

But I'm happy and pleased with the world in general because I heard two pieces of very good news from other writers day before yesterday. The first is that a writer friend finished up a ms that said WF has been working on for several years. The wonderful thing about this is that I've seen a couple of incarnations of this ms, so I know that WF has consistently, patiently, doggedly worked toward feeling out what this ms wanted to be, consciously refusing to let market or business fears interfere with the heart and soul of the creative process. As a consequence, the ms has been a stylistic stretch from WF's previous work, and because WF didn't rush it or push it, but chose fruition as the ultimate goal, the story has visibly grown into its depth and potential.

I can't remember if I've posted this, because I say it so much, and everybody who knows me already knows my opinion, although they may not agree. For me, every book has an ideal form, and my job as a writer is to strive toward that ideal, to feel out the possibilities with an open mind, and to figure out what the book needs and wants to be. I will always necessarily fall short of that ideal, but it's the struggle and searching and goodhearted effort toward the ideal that are the true goal, not the printed and bound book that sits on the shelf. What happens to the book after it's published is a separate matter that has nothing to do with process. And although it would be nice if goodhearted effort was proportional to sales and acclaim, it usually is not. The only thing I have for sure is what happens when I'm alone in front of the computer, just me and the ms.*

So it pleases me down to my battered writerly bones to hear WF decide that the ms has indeed reached its current potential (we all know that another level of potential will be set when an editor gets invested in the ms) and is ready for the next step.

The other good news is from a WF whose ms I read several years ago, and which we discussed. We fell out of touch, but the ms has stayed at the back of my mind, because its strong points were extraordinarily strong, and because it was so very deserving of struggle and goodhearted effort. I hoped WF had not been ground down by this sucky business. To me, a ms becomes a living thing that requires its authors not to give up. If a living thing is going to die without you, you can't quit on it completely just because you're exhausted or feeling hopeless. Set it aside, yes; refill the well, yes--but not quit completely to let it die.

So anyway, this WF contacted me out of the blue to let me know that said WF had indeed been plugging away all these years, had been struggling and working to bring this ms to fulfillment--and that it had just sold in a multibook deal.

While I've been plugging away in various degrees of hope and hopelessness, other writers have been doing so too, with quiet dedication to craft and to their stories. Knowing this sooths my battered bones and warms my soul.

*It's an irony of this business that the more you focus on what a ms needs to be and the less you focus on whether it will be published, the more likely it becomes that the ms will be published. I will be so bold as to state that as a fact. Feel free to argue.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Feeling uneasy about my WIP right now; I want to print out the first section and see what it looks like (I'm afraid it's not good). But first I've got to get the story to a certain turning point, otherwise I won't be able to see the big picture about how it's moving and flowing. I need to try to get a feel for this whole first section at once.

The transitions in this kind of ms are made with white space rather than words. What that means is the flow from scene to scene has to be absolutely smooth; the reader has to ease from one page to the next without having to stop and think or get reoriented. In regular prose, I have to work hard to stop with one idea or hook then immediately lay the groundwork for the next. This is one of my huge weaknesses as a writer; it does not come naturally, takes a lot of time and effort, and is usually not the fun part. But the tradeoff for not having to do transitions is that there's no slacking; to me regular transitions can be a little mushy and vague compared to the nailed-down scenes they connect. In verse, or in cut-line prose, or in whatever it is I'm doing in this WIP (no idea what it's called) there can't be any mushiness. I have to go from meat to meat without any fat, gristle or bone. Just solid, pure-D protein all the way.

Huh. I think this post gives the illusion that I know what I'm doing. I do not.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Busy today, but got a bit of writing in. I realized I was undercutting myself by having two mildly confrontational scenes involving the same characters about the same subject. I hadn't noticed it till now; I guess I thought I was building something-or-other by having the confrontations escalate, but today I suddenly saw it in a different light and realized I'm just clogging things up to have two of them. So the first one is gone.

I went to get some mailers today and saw this cool expanding folder thing and bought it because I thought it was on sale, but it wasn't. Office supplies are one of my vices, up there with books and Diet Pepsi. I have been really good about not buying books lately, and I shouldn't have bought the damn expanding folder...but I did. And it's really cool. I've got about ten million things on my desk that could go in it. The last one I bought like this was clear, and it's got my swordfighting research in it.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Yesterday, did a second draft of the essay I've been working on. Today I cut some of the boring stuff in the former GN, and pulled that part together a little bit tighter. I think it's past page 30 now, and I'm wondering if that's too long to wait before the story really starts happening. The tension from the sex and violence at the beginning will pull the reader along for a while, but I'm not sure how long exactly. Well, that depends on the reader, obviously, so I guess the question is how far would it pull me along? No answer is forthcoming because I'm smack dab in the middle of it and working blind. The only thing to do is hope it doesn't suck and keep at it.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Yesterday I spent all my writing time working on an essay, and got a first draft done. Will go back and rewrite it at some point.

Today, worked on former GN. Am still working on it--and something feels wrong, so I may have to chunk most of what I've done today. It feels...boring. This is in the course of trying to get those disparate sequences working together in some kind of decent order.

Thinking about it further, this isn't a story about taking steps or making choices--at least not for most of the ms. It's about events that lie beyond the MC's control and how they close in on her. But that's the opposite of what makes a book move, of what makes it grab the reader; usually the MC is presented with a goal and stumbling blocks, and then makes choice after choice after choice.

So maybe none of this will work. Or maybe it's just a matter of presentation. No idea.

Anyway, now I'm dimly remembering I have this problem pretty often--a character whose "goal" is negative. In Night Road, for example, Cole wanted not to have to lug Gordo around, and now I remember I whined about that for months if not years. And now that I'm remembering NR, I'm also remembering the whole inner/outer goal concept, where the MC's goal is one thing, and the reader's goal for the MC can be a completely different thing, and I'm thinking maybe I chew on this same issue all the time and whine about it and am sick of doing so--only I forgot because this is a different ms.

Whatever. I don't want to think logically right now, anyway. I want to write by gut. So p*ss on all that, and back to work till it's time to go see what's up with the Bounts this week on Bleach. I hope that soulreaper dude with the face tattoos gets some good onscreen time this episode.

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