Huh. Is There Any Money In That?

Crossposted to the Deadline Dames.

First, an announcement. Readers AleBB and Amanda N., please email me and tell me which mug/shirt you want. I have your addresses, but not the exact prizes you want.

Also, if you check out the latest (March ‘10) Romantic Times, I’m in there with Nalini Singh, Anne Rice, and Debbie Macomber (not to mention some fellow Dames, I think). We’re all talking about angels and demons, and having a great time. Plus, there are some Dame books recommended in that article!’

Now. It’s Friday. I’m supposed to do a Friday post. But what I really want to do is get back to the book that’s been bugging me. It’s a bright sunny windy day, and the itching under my skin can only be a work of fiction dying to get out. So, it’s going to be a Friday Four! I’m going to answer four common questions I get asked when I tell people I write for a living.

Seriously. These are the things I get asked/said to me most often when I tell people what I do. Enjoy!

1. Huh. Is there any money in that?

I’m very lucky that I can support myself by writing, and I do it by being pretty careful what I spend money on. (I’m helped by the fact that my priorities do not seem to be the average person’s set of priorities.) When you’re only paid twice a year and expected to live on chunks of your advances for months at a time, you have to budget pretty carefully. Also, you need to build up a safety cushion for those times when the royalty or advance payments dry up. It happens.

So yeah, there’s money…but only because I’m careful.

2. So how long does it take you to write a book?

It depends on the type of book. There’s the brute work of typing 60-100K words (and quite possibly twice that amount if there are multiple drafts, endings, and revisions). There’s the research involved, which can add hours and hours (even if it is Internet-based, which I don’t recommend…but that’s another blog post). There’s the time between revisions/drafts to let it sit and cool down. Then there’s the emotional energy and time one invests into a book.

For example, the Watcher books were relatively painless to write. They were fun and I had the structure down after the second one, so it was a matter of relaxing into the structure. I could probably write one of those every couple months, if I wasn’t doing anything else. Contrast that with the Jill Kismet books, which take a lot out of me. I need a year for each Kismet book, period. This is partly because I have other projects going at the same time, but it’s mostly because Jill’s world is a very dark place and the emotional toll of entering that world and suffering with her, as well as feeling her triumphs, is very large.

Oddly, short stories sometimes take me longer than novels, because the word count is so limited–I have to have everything just right before I draw my sword and make my cut.

So, that’s actually a very complex question. There are books that took me three years to write, books that took me a month and a half of intense effort, books that sort of dumped themselves out of my head whole. Writing a book is an incredibly complex process, with all sorts of factors affecting it. So I usually say, “From a month to three years, it depends on the book.”

3. I always wanted to write a book. How do you get published?

Persistence. Sheer dumb brute persistence. And luck, but the harder you work, the more likely you are to be lucky.

There are many ways to climb the mountain to publication[1], as well as many ways to climb the mountain of a sustainable writing career. The bedrock all these ways rest on is not quitting and learning.

You do not have a guarantee of getting published. All you can do is maximize your chances. Plenty of people do not bother to maximize their chances and so, just clog up the pipes with slush. But I can tell you this much: if you quit, it’s CERTAIN that you will never get published. If you don’t keep producing work and submitting, of course you’ll never get there. It’s a question of whether or not this matters enough to you.

The other half of the answer is learning. I never open a finished book of mine without wincing at things I could have done better and feeling the urge to correct/revise. Never. Part of that is simply my work ethic; the other part is that I an consistently and constantly trying to learn more about language, grammar, what makes stories work, what makes writing work. I rarely read for pleasure anymore; instead, I’m “looking under the hood” and seeing how the story is put together while another part of me is searching for typos. It’s become a reflex by now.

If you aren’t wincing and thinking you could do better when you open up a story/document you wrote six months ago, it’s time to focus on some more learning. I sincerely believe this is not a finite process.

4. I’ve got this great idea for a book. Why don’t you write it and we’ll split it 50-50?

Writers sometimes joke about this, but it isn’t really a joke. People actually say this to me. The only thing that saves the top of my head from blowing off while steam shoots off my ears and I reach for something sharp is the fact that most people don’t have the faintest idea how much work it is to write a book. They know that they walk into a bookstore and see the finished product and it takes them ten minutes to buy it if the line’s super-long around Christmas.

They do not see the months or years it took to write that book, the different drafts, the revisions and proofing process, the waiting for publication schedules to line up…I could go on. It’s like people thinking a television commercial only takes thirty seconds to film because that’s how long the finished product ends up being.

I used to try to explain this to people, but two sentences into the explanation people’s eyes would glaze over. People largely don’t care to hear about how their conveniences or consumable entertainment actually comes into being. Listening to that is too much like work, and I suspect it drains some of the “magic” from the mental image people have of writers.

So now I just settle for taking a deep breath, reminding myself that dismemberment is frowned upon in most social situations, and say, “Sorry. I’ve got my own books to write.”

The funny thing about this is most people just nod and move on with the conversation. There is, however, a slight but definite proportion of people who are actually offended when I say that. I suspect they are some of the same people you read about here. I actually had one man say to me, “What, my ideas aren’t good enough for you?”[2]

*snorts* So here’s what I wish I could say: “It’s not that your ideas aren’t good enough. It’s that I’d rather spend my time on the line of my ideas that’s stretching out the door and around the block. Other ideas are free to wait in line, and I’ll get the money for the actual effort put into writing them, thank you very much. Next!”

Ideas are a dime a dozen. What makes a book special is the time, care, and effort the writer puts into expressing the idea and its consequences, the effort spent revising until it’s as good as it can be, the effort the publisher puts into it from their end, and the ongoing engagement the writer cultivates with the readers. Five seconds of “hey I have an idea!” isn’t worth much when stacked against those months or years of backbreaking effort.

Anyway. So there you have it, the four most-common questions I’m asked when I tell people I write for a living. Someday, just to shake things up, I’m going to tell someone that I shave gorillas for a living.

They’ll probably say, “Huh. Is there any money in that?”

[1] Note that when I say “publication” I mean traditional publishing with all its quality control. I do not mean self or vanity publishing.
[2]At that point I realized I was dealing with irrationality, and took refuge in absurdity. “Yes. My cake is burning, thank you.” And I walked away.

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

If You Need Permission, Babe, You’ve Got It

Crossposted to the Deadline Dames.

It’s Friday again! Which means, time for another Friday writing post. I suggest you click back a day and read Dame Toni’s most excellent Brain Frozen, Need Help! Because she says it better than I could.

Today I’m resurrecting a Golden Oldie from my blog vaults. This post went up in July of ‘07, and is taken from an actual email I wrote to an actual young writer’s desperate call for help. I think it’s held up pretty well, in conjunction with my other advice to young writers. So, without further ado, here’s something I wrote pretty much two years ago and reread this morning. It fired me up all over again. Oh, and please note: there are four-letter words ahead. If that bothers you, stop now.

Read the rest of this entry »

Sea Change

I rolled out of bed this morning feeling actually happy.

Not just like I could stand another day, not just getting up because I had to, not just like the only thing bringing me to consciousness was the alarm and the idea that soon there would be coffee replacing my blood pint by pint. No, this morning I got up and I didn’t feel like I had to force myself to paste on a chilling little half-smile in order to face the world.

I’m still wearing the half-smile. It’s facial armor, just like eyeliner. And oh my God am I happy for the coffee. As well as utterly weirded out by this sea change.

I don’t think I’ve ever rolled out of bed willingly. I’ve done it because I had to and because people were depending on me. Today I was actually a little excited to get up and see what was going to happen. I felt like things were OK-going-on-good and getting better.

This is such a huge step for me, I’m tempted to go back to bed and think it over. (Just kidding. I’m so funny.)

Anyway, I’ve decided I’m not going to over-analyze or look for holes in this feeling. I’m going to take it as a base to build my day on. I’m cautiously optimistic that the happy will stay at least until lunch. If it stays longer, great. I intend to be a good hostess for this guest, so that we can become bestest friends. I like the idea of feeling happy more often than not.

My life has changed so much in the last six months. It’s incredible. And this is the first intimation I have that the change might stick and become permanent, that I’m not going to slide back down into the hole. There were days when it was enough not to drown. Now I’ve built myself back up from rubble and it’s enough to feel pretty OK when the alarm goes off.

I like this. I think I’ll keep it.

Of course, there’s still those revisions. They were kicking my ass yesterday, but I outwaited and outplayed them, managing to get another 2K of fresh plot thread woven in. From here it’s a gallop to the finish line, and I’m going to make it on time.

Here’s hoping your day has a little happiness too, dear Reader. Over and out.

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

I Am Not Them, But I’m Just As Scared

Cross-posted to the Deadline Dames, a year old and still going strong.

I can definitively state I AM NOT MY CHARACTERS.

Most of them–Danny and Jill spring immediately to mind for some reason–come from a pretty dark place. Others, not so much. I’ve had some scary experiences in my life (and something tell me I will have still more, life being what it is.) Some of those scary experiences are fuel. Others are just…there. They don’t go into books, they’re too personal. I have to come to terms with them in other ways.

Using the fuel of scary experiences can be good. It can help you process, it can help you deal. There are several different types of artistic fuel, however, and getting hooked on one to the exclusion of all others is a chancy proposition. Art does not live by one fuel alone–and trying to make it can have bad effects on you.

Case in point? Well, me. I’m in a state of highly personal, highly charged change right now. Some of the fuel I was using while I was miserable five years ago, or two years ago, or six months ago is no longer around. I don’t have that whip to push myself on. I am, to put it bluntly, afraid that if I get healthier or happier I will no longer be able to peer into those dark places or face them with the courage needed to pull those characters out of the shadows.

Most of me knows this is silly. As someone wise recently told me, “Those miseries were ways you had of coping and surviving. They worked to keep you whole and protect you. They’ll still be there if you need them again.” I know it’s true–I can put them back in my toolbox and get them out if I need them.

But, dear Reader…I’m scared. I’m scared the characters won’t talk to me if we don’t have the pain-points in common. I’m terrified that I’m a one-trick pony. I’m scared that getting healthier and happier will change something in my makeup and send me spinning and careening off into the woods, where my career will die a lonely death and I’ll end up hungry on the street.

I know it’s not rational. I know I’m feeling this because change is inherently frightening. When you add personal change to the cauldron of insecurities writing can and does uncover, it’s about as comfortable as bathing in a tub full of very angry cobras.

So how do you get through? How do you reassure yourself the words will still be there even if you change?

I suppose a simple answer is faith, with a large helping of stubbornness. I did not get to where I am today by listening to the fear or letting the rejection stop me. The words have been there during every other damn change in my life; this one just feels different because I’m suffering it OMGNOW! Time will add a measure of perspective that will drain my panic.

None of this helps with the agony of indecision, fear, and agitation I am experiencing, yea even at this very moment.

Which gives me hope. Over the course of a book, I take people apart. I feel their agonies while I whack away every single solid thing they rely on and put them through the wringer. They risk everything because they have no choice. It’s who they are, and living requires the courage to do no less.

I guess we’re not so different, my characters and me. Which brings me to my bone-deep stubbornness again. If they can make it through everything I can throw at them, I can make it through this. Jill would set her chin, glare out of her mismatched eyes, and stride forward. Danny’s thumb would caress the katana’s guard, and she’d wear that little half-smile. Kaia would grin and brace herself. Even Theo, the calmest and sweetest person I’ve ever written, would fold her arms and get that determined little glint in her eye.

No, they’re not (and never will be) me. But the strength to write them is and always has been mine. If I’ve lost the fuel of misery I’ll find something else to burn. If I’ve kept the fire going this long, I’ll likely find something else to throw on it. I have to trust–not my gods, not my characters, not other people. I have to trust in my own willingness to let the words come through me. I have to trust that I’m still interesting even when I’m not broken. That this will only make me stronger and better.

I’m not my characters. They can still teach me something. And I can look back on creating them and know there’s no shortage. Remember? My job isn’t to make the magic. My job is to show up every day.

I can do that. No matter how scared I am.

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

Keep Showing Up

There comes a point in every book where one realizes one is not writing the damn book. The damn book is taking shape under one’s fingers, according to its own will and desires. You might as well just be a tube the words are coming through. Although the story needs the tube to contain it–and to work to put it on the page–it certainly doesn’t, well, obey.

I think this frightens a lot of people who want to write. The sense that they might not be in control, or that the story might be coming through them, is a scary one. It’s like having an alien in your brain. Others fight the organic life of the story and end up with a mess, where the reader can tell the writer fought tooth and nail to retain control instead of letting the story take shape. It’s sad to read–it’s like looking at a limping, broken thing that once used to soar.

Even writing to spec requires some submission to the story’s desires. There’s the focused daydream of planning the story, where chunks of the narrative arc come out of the mist and loom inside one’s head like frigates, and then there’s the day to day writing, where you have to get to a particular plot point, but the pleasure resides in deciding how.

This may be different for other writers, I don’t know. For me, it’s an odd tandem: the discipline to sit down and be present every day and the gift of the story taking shape of its own accord. I decided a long time ago that coming up with the story wasn’t really my job. That’s the Muse’s job. Mine is being present in front of the keyboard every day, ready, willing, and Mabel. I give the Muse the vague specs and she takes over. She needs my hands and my willingness, and I need that damn fairy dust she sneezes out. We’re a symbiote, but it requires work.

Anyway, I’ve reached the point in the current book–around 30K, sometimes a little later–where I sit back to think about what comes next and I realize I am not steering this train. The tracks are laid and they’re taking me somewhere through that wall of fog. It’s equal parts terrifying and downright exciting.

Terrifying because I am counting on this other thing to produce the story needed for me to continue working and earning money. Exciting because it’s a rollercoaster, and you know…she’s never let me down yet. The Muse is a fickle, tricky, nasty little wench. But she is also faithful in her fashion, and as long as I’ve shown up she’s never taken a sick day. There’s a certain amount of comfort in realizing that as long as I’m doing my best, she’s going to keep slugging away too.

So, I’m about to turn on the foglamps and charge forward into that white cloudbank. There’s always the risk of running off the edge of a cliff. But if I haven’t yet, in over thirty finished books and God knows how many short stories and slush bits…well, I’ll take my chances and trust the Muse.

She hasn’t let me down yet. All I’ve got to do is keep showing up.

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

Goodbye, 2009

Well, another year has come to a close. It’s been a helluva ride. I’ve been broken and remade, done things I never thought I could do, and kept going the whole time. The things I feared most happened, and I discovered the world didn’t end. I’ve discovered I’m actually pretty capable, and lots of things I was taught and trained to believe about myself are not true. It’s been an uphill battle all the way, but now I feel like I’ve reached a hilltop and am looking around wild-eyed with my sword in my hand. Come on, I’m saying, who’s next? Who wants a piece of me next?

I realize this is not the healthiest emotional state, but it’s better than numb grieving or pained apathy. I’ll take it. The battle’s over, now I need to start calming down and patching things up. Harder work, because you’re not in fight-or-flight with a tight adrenaline focus. But all in all, nicer work.

I am not going to miss 2009. It’s been a great year in terms of teaching me I’m tougher than I think I am. Still, that’s the sort of lesson one doesn’t ever really like learning.

So. I’m deciding that 2010 will be awesome. It will be a lucky year, a great year. And if it isn’t, I’m still going to treat it like it is. That’s my Major Luck Experiment–a whole year where I look entirely on the bright side.

I’ll wait for those of you who know me to stop laughing before I reiterate: this is my goal. I’m gonna do my damndest.

I have other goals. Not resolutions. Resolutions are sort of airy-fairy; goals, however, I know about. I know how to break them up into little chunks and work those chunks methodically out of the way. Goals, I understand. I can kick the ass of any reasonable goal, and identifying the unreasonable ones in order to make them reasonable is one of my specialties.

So here are some of my goals for 2010:

* Read one poem a day.
* Get back into the Latin self-study; starting in February
* Continue with my now-habitual six-days-a-week exercise regimen
* Continue with the diet plan
* Grow my hair out (it’ll happen mostly without me, but it’s nice to have at least one goal like that)
* Take a basic digital photography class
* Make time for Krav Maga or yoga classes (I am not picky, not one little bit)
* Clean out my garage (again)
* Write the homicidal-fae and Bannon-and-Clare books, between the stuff I’m contracted for
* Get all my work in on or under deadline, barring major disasters or Acts of God
* Shrug and smile and say, “Oh well, I’ll deal,” more.
* View everything that happens as good luck, one way or another

Whew, what a list! How am I going to fit all these things in? Like I said, I’m no stranger to breaking things up into little chunks and chewing the life out of each chunk. I begin to think it’s the only way I ever get anything accomplished.

So, welcome, 2010! I’ll be watching drunken shenanigans occur out in the rain on my street (I know several of my neighbors have reserved firecrackers for this occasion) when the clock ticks over. But I’ll be smiling quietly, probably with a glass of wine I began sipping and savoring when the little ones went to bed, and I will have my first act of the New Year be two sentences.

“Hi, 2010, we’re going to kick some ass together. Let’s get started.”

Over and out.

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

All and then it’s nothing to me, yeah…

Yeah. Like this:

You and I got something
But it’s all, and then it’s nothing to me, yeah
And I got my defenses when it comes to your intentions for me, yeah
And we wake up in the breakdown
In the things we never thought we could be, yeah…

I’m not the one who broke you
I’m not the one you should fear
We’ve got to move you darling
I thought I lost you somewhere
But you were never really ever there at all… (Goo Goo Dolls)

Yes, I want to get free. But you don’t need to talk to me. I’m done talking. Now I’m moving.

There are hard days and easier days. Today is somewhere in between. But when I’m on the treadmill and running, I find pieces of myself I left behind so I could fit in your cupcake tin. They slide back into place like they were never gone, and I feel more and more like myself. Each day is better as the other physical things migrate out of the house–kind of, I don’t know, like bits of shrapnel leaving a wound.

I’ve made my way out of the cocoon. The wings are dry. I’ve climbed the damn tree I was hanging in.

Now I’m going to fly. I’m scared, and there’s no net…but the worst has already happened, and I’ve not only survived. I’ve just plain thrived. I guess I didn’t need what I thought I did. Lesson learned, I won’t forget it. Ever.

Now I’m gone. Really gone. Gone gone gone.

And it feels good.

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