Zero Draft, Jealousy Giveaway, And Snapback

How can I have a cold when it’s a hundred degrees outside? I ask you, how? Maybe it’s the mosquitoes. Several people have mentioned how the little buggers seem to be particularly bad this year. I believe the term used was “MUTANT ZOMBIE MOSQUITOES FROM HELL, Jesus!” And I heartily agree. I’m welted up all over.

Anyway, I have great news and some links.

I’ve officially finished the zero draft for Strange Angels 5. This is the end of the series, and I cried like a baby last night when I wrote the last few chapters. My laundry pile is threatening to eat the living room and I just spent a couple hours weeding through email correspondence that I literally haven’t had time to touch for the past week. The race to finish the book meant dumping 4-5K out every day for the past four days–not that I’m under serious time constraints, because the first draft isn’t due for a couple months at least, but the story had taken me over and it wanted out.

It’s called a zero draft because it needs work before it turns into a reasonable first draft that I can send to my editor without cringing. Of course, I’ll cringe anyway. That’s just how it works–the instant I hit the “send” button, I am assailed by the “what if they don’t LIKE it?” tsunami. But before I can do that work and regard the zero draft as just raw material, I have to set it aside. I’m thinking this book needs to be completely out of my head for at least a month before I will have enough emotional distance from it to go back and see some of the flaws enough to correct them.

Now I’m firmly in the snapback phase, which is what happens to me after I’ve focused all this emotional, mental, and physical energy on finishing a book. I’m pretty much exhausted on all three levels, but the engine in my head is still whirring and pulling. It hasn’t calmed down yet; I’m still feeling the reverberations. So I’ll need a day or so to let the force bleed off and return my brain to normal. (Yeah, I know. Or as close to normal as my brain ever gets.)

The other news? Guess what arrived the other day. Go on, guess.

Some shiny new copies of the third Strange Angels book, Jealousy, due for release on July 29! Which means tomorrow there will be a giveaway for two signed copies on my Deadline Dames Friday writing post. Plus, I’ll be sending out a newsletter soon (I haven’t sent one out in months–sorry, Dark Siders! It’s been a bit crazy here.) And, because my faithful Dark Siders are so awesome, I’ll be running a giveaway for signed copies through the newsletter as well. Exciting, no?

Now for the links:

* Mario Vargas Llosa on why literature isn’t dead yet.

*Chapman/Chapman on failing harder.

* And in honor of Jealousy coming out, Graves appears on a list of hot boys over at Suzanne Young’s excellent blog. There’s also a Facebook release e-party gearing up.

That’s all I’ve got, dear Readers. My brain is mush. See you tomorrow.

Posted from A Fire of Reason. You can also comment there.

Independent Chains

The smoke has cleared and everyone I see looks like they have a hangover. Yes, the Fourth is over.

I spent Independence Day down at Fort Vancouver with the kids. There were vendors, stages, all sorts of booths, enough greasy food to make all of us gleefully sick, and the old fort itself was a wonderland for the little ones. The blacksmith’s shop was the hit of the day, with the carpenter’s shop a close second. I particularly enjoyed the guy in the carpenter shop talking about 19th-century water transport, but then, I’m a geek.

We got home well before dark and had an all-American meal of burgers and fries. Well, chicken burgers, and fries nobody wanted because we’d already had a bunch of them downtown, watermelon, tortilla chips and salsa, enough ice cream to float a boat. Then there was a long slow wait for it to get reasonably dark, and time for fireworks. Nobody lost any appendages this year, and we were finished before the entire neighborhood began to come under what sounded like an artillery barrage. The kids enjoyed it mightily until the mosquitoes bravely rallied through the smoke and sulfur, so we went inside. Everyone was tired and happy. I was actually mellow for the first time I can remember on the Fourth, but that might have been the consequence of two glasses of red wine and a bit of Chocolate Fudge Brownie ice cream.

I put the kids to bed, wrote out a list of things I’m declaring my independence from, and toddled off to sleep. All in all, it was a grand day.

This week I’m pushing to get the zero draft of Sacrifice done, so I might not be around as much. I’m in that stage where I want to finish the damn book and everything that keeps me from doing so is an annoyance at best. My patience, never a quality much in evidence even at the best of times, must be carefully husbanded so I don’t snap at people who are Just Trying To Help, or who Actually Live With Me And Don’t Deserve Crap. It will be a great relief when I finally bring Dru’s adventure’s to their natural endpoint.

Hope your Fourth was as fun and relaxing as mine, dear Reader. And now, back to the grindstone. That’s one thing I haven’t declared independence from. I’m glad to have the luxury of largely choosing my chains.

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Ham Death, Marketing, Win Some, Lose Some

This book is trying to kill me. Yes, it’s Dru 5. I even have a tentative title: Sacrifice. Chills the blood, doesn’t it? This morning I realized I had to answer a thorny question about What Happened To One Particular Character, and internal consistency demanded I go for a transfusion instead of an aesthetically-pleasing biting scene. *sigh* Plus, I’m in the “this book sucks so hard nobody will ever want to read it, woe is me” phase. The only cure is completing the damn thing and putting it in a drawer for a couple weeks to a month while I work on something else.

So, while I’m bashing at the book and muttering “die, die, DIE!” under my breath, here’s a few links:

* Maggie Stiefvater on Death By Ham. She makes the point that a good book has a good chance.

I never said that what they were writing was good.

I also never said that these people researched the market, read Writer’s Digest, and figured out how to write query letters and where to send them to. I never said these people were voracious and critical readers and worked constantly on honing their writing craft. I never said that these people sat down and wrote four books and then wrote a fifth book and said this is the one, this is finally getting good.

Because I would venture to say that if we were talking about the publishing odds of that population, those people who live in that paragraph right above this one, we’d be having a different conversation entirely.

And that conversation would go like this: if you write a good book and follow the rules of submitting manuscripts and stick to it, you will eventually find someone who loves that book and will put it between real covers. The statistics might not be 100%, but I’m going to go with at least over 90%. Good books get found. Good books don’t languish in agent slush piles. –Maggie Stiefvater

I agree completely. The initial stages of the process of trad publishing are to largely to winnow out the Speshul Snowflakes and find out whether you can turn in a decent book, follow directions, and act like a professional human being. If you can do those things, you stand a very good chance of getting published.

* Mike Duran on “When does self-promotion become Too Much?” (via Jess Hartley). My own rule of thumb is that my site and blog (not to mention Twitter stream) must be 80% crunchy content (that is, actual content I feel has value instead of being a cheap shill-cry for “mememememe buymybooks buybuybuy!”); 10% marketing, and 10% random WTF. (The last ten percent is just for my own amusement.) Even then, I try to shut up about the marketing unless I honestly have something to say: a book launch, an interview, announcements fans have asked me for, that sort of thing.

Part of this is that I’m highly uncomfortable with hard-sell tactics. (Yes, I’ll link that post about why the hard sell doesn’t work again. It’s still relevant.) I was always uncomfortable with them, as a customer and even while working retail. I point-blank refused to engage in aggressive selling on quite a few of my retail jobs, and I never had any trouble meeting any quotas. Customer service does not have to mean high-pressure; it means being responsive and offering choices. I figure one has a better chance of building a loyal fan or customer base if you don’t insult their intelligence, which is what constant self-promotion basically is. (With a heavy helping of arrogance. Po-tay-to, po-tah-to.)

The 80-10-10 rule isn’t hard and fast. Sometimes I have a LOT of stuff to announce, and it feels to me like I’m shilling. And I’m sure a lot of people would say my idea of “worthwhile content” is lame. But oh well.

* And just to fulfill the 10% quota of random WTF, here’s a Snickers cocktail recipe, courtesy of Laura Anne Gilman. I love that woman.

It’s taken me a couple hours to finish this post, mostly because I zoomed out the door to catch an open climb midway. After yesterday’s utter triumph, today was a comedy of falling off the wall and swearing under my breath. Oh well–win some, lose some.

Now I’ve got to go get closer to the end of this book. See you around.

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Declaration, Bullying, And Doing The Math

I have three scenes to get through today to set me up for the Epic!Battle! at the end of Dru 5. I am going to kick this book’s ass today, I swear. So this will be short.

* The Copenhagen Declaration on Religion in Public Life. I take this as a step forward. I have a close personal relationship with my gods, but I don’t like other peoples’ gods shoved down my throat, I do not require anyone else take my word for the existence of my gods, and I am still undecided on the question of whether or not gods actually objectively exist or are just psychological processes. (That’s reducing a complex ongoing philosophical argument I have with myself to a nutshell; I’m not going into all of it here. Suffice to say I think undecided is a good place to be when contemplating such questions.)

I consider the declaration a step forward. Secular societies have a better human-rights record than religious ones; organized religion is probably the most effective con game ever invented. I’m comfortable having my own religion/spirituality be just one of my many little personal quirks, rather like my preference for Havarti and my belief that mateless socks in the laundry are actually the larval form of wire clothes hangers. All in all, if one must believe in the unbelievable, I think that’s the healthiest route.

* New York Times on resources about bullying and cyber-bullying. I’ve been bullied and stalked, I’ve seen people I care about bullied and stalked. It’s not pretty. I am undecided whether bullying is actually on the rise or just more visible now with the technology we have. It seems people are pretty steadily nasty all through history, and a great deal of that nastiness is overlooked for one reason or another. Anyway, that doesn’t mean anyone should be bullied, or that parents or educators should stand for it. ‘Nuff said.

* An interesting piece about Harriet Wasserman, a literary agent who absconded with some of her clients’ royalties. (Hat tip to Victoria Strauss for the link.) This should not be construed as a case against agents; Wasserman is an anomaly, much like Ted Mooney representing himself effectively is an anomaly. Still, “trust but verify” is a business practice I wish more new and aspiring writers would practice. This is a business, and checking the math and doing your research doesn’t stop once you’re published. Get used to doing it before you’re published, and save yourself a lot of grief both before and after that blessed event.

* The ever-thoughtful Issendai returns to the subject of sick systems, exploring why they are so tenacious. (Be sure to read parts one and two of this series; they’re highly useful.)

There. That’s done. Now I’m going back to getting Dru in trouble. Lots of big, big trouble.

See you around.

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Oh Yes. I’m Cranky.

I do have errands to run. I’m not going to run them. As a matter of fact, I am in full-fledged revolt against the idea of leaving the house today, not least because I suspect I will hurt someone if I go out. I am incredibly cranky today. I suspect I may be coming down with a cold, which only adds. So, today is short but sweet.

There’s an interview with me and giveaway for Strange Angels over at Tynga’s Reviews. Also, Issendai posted a followup to the sick systems post, in which s/he points out that it’s our virtues, not our vices, that keep us trapped in sick systems. Which is a good point.

There’s also a cranky agent cherrypicking the worst sentences out of his/her slushpile and putting them anonymously on Tumblr. I won’t lie. This amuses me mightily because I worked slush for a while. There will no doubt be another queryfail tempest in a teapot over this. We already know how I feel. In addition to being comedy gold, this is valuable advice, offered for free, about what NOT to do on a query. Nuff said.

I’ve got wordcount and proof pages to kick ass on today. One thing about being incredibly cranky: it makes me awful productive. Off I go, then. If you hear screaming, it’s just the Muse as I throw her in the traces and get out the whip. We’re taking no prisoners today.

Over and out.

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Be Stubborn, Until You Can Be Familiar. And After.

Crossposted to the Deadline Dames. Check us out!

I’m on Formspring now, if you want to ask me questions. I can’t promise to give spoilers, but between that and the fan forum, you can find out a lot. Tempty, tempty.

I am currently in the doldrums of Dru 5. It’s the end of the series, which means I have a lot of threads to tie in. Plus, there’s always this spot near the end of a book when I’m physically and emotionally exhausted by the damn thing, everything feels like it’s pure crap, nobody’s ever going to like the book, and the desire to just give up wars with the stubborn angry urge to kick the book’s ass and wipe the floor with the Muse’s knowing little grin. Every time I hit this point, it’s the habit of writing every day that carries me through. Well, that and chocolate. And bitching to my writing partner about the damn book.

Add to that the fact that my novel-writing process for the last four books has required me to throw out a chunk of 20K or so at this point because the book’s decided it wants to go in a COMPLETELY DIFFERENT DIRECTION, THANK YOU, and you have crazymaking all over.

I have two things going for me at this point. One is the habit of writing every damn day, no matter what. This is where all that daily effort pays off–it becomes more comfortable to do the damn work than to break the habit. The other is the fact that I’ve done this a few times by now, and the process is familiar. At least, as familiar as a process that changes each time you undergo it can get.

Someone once said, “You never learn how to write a novel. You only learn how to write the novel you’re writing NOW.” It’s very true. The process is also highly individual, which makes generalities even more dangerous. But having gone from a cursor blinking on a new white page in a freshly-opened file to a completed manuscript over 35 times (I had to go back and count, good Lord) and getting over 20 of those finished efforts published, I think I’ve got a fair handle on how the process generally works for me.

It’s like climbing the corner at the rock gym. Each time I go up that particular route, I do it differently. I still use the same skillset and the same tools. And sometimes I get into a difficult spot and have to hang there for a moment and think how the hell am I going to do this, now? Or finishing a long run–I face a different set of psychological and physical “problems” each time, and I solve them differently. Maybe I feel “heavy” and I don’t want to run, or maybe my brain is so busy chewing over something stressful I have to keep bringing myself back to pay attention, or what-have-you. The main idea is to keep running until I’ve finished.

Of course, I have a graveyard of unfinished pieces, or bits that didn’t make it into the finished work. There’s between six and eighteen of those for every finished piece. Sometimes I get myself into an intractable dilemma while climbing and I have to start again. An injury may force me to back off on or briefly stop running; a crisis elsewhere may mean I get off the treadmill without finishing. None of this means that my ability to finish has been jeopardized, or that the process of finishing despite the don’t-wannas is significantly, ontologically different each and every time.

This is why I say it’s so critical for new or aspiring writers to celebrate finishing their first piece and then start writing something else. One time around the merry-go-round doesn’t teach you even a tenth of what you need to know to make it to publication. I consider anyone’s first finished novel a sort of throat-clearing. It’s meant to prime the pump. Only rarely does it result in something usable or salable. After you’ve finished two books you have a better idea of your process. After you’ve finished five you have a much better idea.

But an idea, sadly, is all you get.

I do not mean to imply that finishing a set number of books will make the process more than vaguely predictable, or even significantly easier. It becomes easier only in the sense that one knows one has done it before, which is very good but not guaranteed to make the next effort any less backbreaking.

There’s the same learning curve on submissions, which is why I advocate finishing and submitting as much as possible. Dealing with rejection doesn’t get any easier. It’s still rejection. It still hurts. Nobody likes to be rejected. It’s human nature.

But enduring the merry-go-round of bringing a book to completion and enduring the merry-go-rounds of submitting, revising, undergoing editing, and critique (not to mention reviews) will give you valuable information on how the process affects you. So instead of being lost in a sea of OH MY GOD THIS NOVEL IS GOING TO KILL ME, you will be lost in the sea of THIS NOVEL MAY KILL ME BUT I’M GOING TO GIVE IT A GOOD FIGHT, STABBITY STAB STAB. There’s an inch’s worth of difference between the two.

Sometimes, that inch is all you need.

Which is why, as soon as I finish this post, I’m going right back into the fray. Twenty minutes of tweaking and trimming and I’ll have the book on a totally new course, 20K or so put in a graveyard file for going back to later should I need any good bits of it, and then I’m shifting to the next Jill book while I cool off. I’ve learned that this is how things generally work best for me–first you do major surgery, then you stitch it up and leave the book to convalesce while you go dally with another book to make the first one jealous. Your mileage may vary–but that’s what works for me.

Focus on what works for you. You won’t know until you’ve finished a few books, but that’s OK. You don’t have to know for a while. You just need to be balls-out stubborn enough to keep going.

Good luck.

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Reaching Higher

PW says paranormal isn’t dead yet. I am, of course, happy to hear this.

Here’s something that resonated strongly with me: Issendai on sick systems. Been there and done that, in retail and in relationships. I think I’ve achieved enough in the way of age and self-knowledge that I’m a little less likely to buy into it anymore. Of course, saying that is just an invitation for the Universe to whomp one upside the head. *braces self, eyes the sky suspiciously* But seriously…knowing it and naming it is a prerequisite for not falling for it. I’ve had enough of being exhausted and living with crazymaking people. I’d rather strike out on my own.

The first day of summer vacation is proceeding apace, with videogames, bicycle riding, and much relaxation for the wee ones. I remember those first few glorious days of freedom, when the entire summer stretched out in front of you, terra incognita and delicious. It does me good to see them enjoying themselves while I’m tapping at the keyboard. I don’t wish for a comparable vacation–I’d write all through it anyway. But I can live vicariously.

Climbing this morning was awesome. I tried a 5.8 I’d never tried before, and I’m starting to think with my body on the rock wall. I can’t explain it any better than that–it’s the point where your body learns what’s going on and suddenly starts moving without thought, a sort of trained instinct. It’s damn beautiful to feel. I love the solitary nature of rock climbing–even with a belayer, it’s just you and the rock face. You can’t measure yourself by anything other than yourself. For someone who hates team sports, this is as close as I’ll get to them. It helps that my regular climbing partner is incredibly supportive, and we’ve worked together enough by now that I know without a doubt exactly what she’s thinking when she’s on the wall, and vice versa. There’s something to be said for feeling the belay line tighten and knowing that your belayer has seen you’re getting tired and needing a reminder that the rope will catch you. There’s also something really nice about reaching the top of a difficult climb and hearing everyone around you cheering you on and appreciating the nature of what you’ve accomplished.

Like I said, I’m not much into team sports. But I’ll take it.

I’ve reached the last difficult point in Dru 5. It’s the point of the book where nothing seems to be working right, you’re running out of room, and the entire thing feels like crap. The only cure for it is pushing through and trusting the work to catch you, like that belay rope. Leaning back a little, looking at the holds in front of you, and knowing that it may not look like it, but you can reach the next one. You just have to go for it. If there’s one thing writing has taught me, one lesson I keep learning over and over, it’s that I can reach higher than I ever thought I could. Just going for it works out an amazing amount of the time. I suspect the Universe is built that way.

Over and out.

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