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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Cello, Locks, And Civet Rump

I don’t care how “less acidic” it’s supposed to be, I’m not drinking coffee that came through a civet’s rump.

Oh. Hi. Good morning. I had a fab weekend–for one thing, I visited the Ballard Farmer’s Market and ran across Adam Hurst quite by chance. I’ve been a fan of his for years now, ever since he played before a show at Cinetopia. He’s having a concert (that is being taped for OPB ArtBeat, go Adam!) on July 1 in Portland at the Old Church, and if you’re a fan of cello music, I highly recommend you go take a listen. If all else fails, he’s got several CDs available. I often listen to his stuff while writing Watcher books or while cooking; his first two albums also played quite a role in writing Japhrimel.

This weekend we also visited the Ballard Locks and got to see several sailboats go through to Lake Union. This led to a long involved science geekery conversation about how the locks work, the density of water, deep-ocean currents, fish spawning, and sodium chloride. Add in lunch at Lombardi’s and some Cupcake Royale, and it was a very happy, full, and tired Lili who embarked on the long drive home. The Little Prince and Princess were absolutely fascinated by the sailboats and couldn’t stop talking about it.

We had great weather (overcast but warm, which meant we didn’t get sunburnt while we were out scampering around) and a relaxing drive both ways. All in all, it was a rest-and-recharge weekend, and I actually got some work done too. Everyone won.

How’s your Monday, dear Reader?

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It’s Pick My Brain Time!

It’s time for a Friday post. But this Friday, I’m going to do something a little different.

From now until teatime–4pm PST here at Casa Saintcrow–I’ll be checking in over at the Deadline Dames regularly and answering your questions about writing in the comments. I figure most of you have listened to me pontificate for long enough, and this will also give me an idea of what sorts of things you’d like me to cover in future Friday Writing posts.

Now, we’ve got to have some rules (more like guidelines) to keep things from devolving into anarchy, right? I like anarchy as much as the next girl, but the guidelines, they are a necessary evil.

RulesGuidelines

* Comments are closed here. Go to the Deadline Dames site HERE and ask your questions.
* Play nice. I reserve the right to ban or delete.
* The subject today is writing. If you have questions about my work, check my FAQ.
* Don’t ask me if I’ll read your novel/short/query/whatever or do critique. Please.
* You guys know me. My advice is geared toward the people who want to hopefully aim for making a living from writing for publication. If your aims are different, fine–but keep in mind I’m going to answer according to my lights.
* No honest question is too silly. But please understand if I fall behind on replies–it’s not personal, I have a finite amount of time today.
* Have some fun and offer your own expertise! Mine is not the only route, and I’ll get just as much from this as you will.

All right. You’ve got some questions, I’ll answer as best I can. Pick my brain. Let’s tango.

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A Few Thoughts

A few thoughts knocking around inside my head:

* No matter how much being a full-time writer sometimes sucks, I really, really like that I don’t have to work retail right now unless I choose to. I do volunteer at a bookstore (Cover to Cover Books in beautiful Uptown Vancouver, come and see us!) but I don’t have to deal with the General Public every day. As someone who has worked a lot of retail, this pleases me a great deal. Which is why I find this so amusing. Anyone who works retail or food service need a huge sense of humor and more endurance than Job.

* There’s a special place in hell for those who steal books. That being said, the Tome Raider is a huge plot bunny. My steampunky forensic sorceress and her two sidekicks (one of them a Sherlock-Holmesian master of observation and deduction) could SO use this story.

* Some thoughts on the “democratization of slush” that digital and self-publishing is opening up.

You’ve either experienced slush or you haven’t, and the difference is not trivial. People who have never had the job of reading through the heaps of unsolicited manuscripts sent to anyone even remotely connected with publishing typically have no inkling of two awful facts: 1) just how much slush is out there, and 2) how really, really, really, really terrible the vast majority of it is. Civilians who kvetch about the bad writing of Dan Brown, Stephenie Meyer or any other hugely popular but critically disdained novelist can talk as much trash as they want about the supposedly low standards of traditional publishing. They haven’t seen the vast majority of what didn’t get published — and believe me, if you have, it’s enough to make your blood run cold, thinking about that stuff being introduced into the general population.

Everybody acknowledges that there have to be a few gems out in the slush pile — one manuscript in 10,000, say — buried under all the dreck. The problem lies in finding it. A diamond encased in a mountain of solid granite may be truly valuable, but at a certain point the cost of extracting it exceeds the value of the jewel. With slush, the cost is not only financial (many publishers can no longer afford to assign junior editors to read unsolicited manuscripts) but also — as is less often admitted — emotional and even moral.

It seriously messes with your head to read slush. Being bombarded with inept prose, shoddy ideas, incoherent grammar, boring plots and insubstantial characters — not to mention ton after metric ton of clichés — for hours on end induces a state of existential despair that’s almost impossible to communicate to anyone who hasn’t been there themselves: Call it slush fatigue. You walk in the door pledging your soul to literature, and you walk out with a crazed glint in your eyes, thinking that the Hitler Youth guy who said, “Whenever I hear the word ‘culture,’ I reach for my revolver” might have had a point after all. Recovery is possible, but it’ll take a while (apply liberal doses of F. Scott Fitzgerald). In the meantime, instead of picking up every new manuscript with an open mind and a tiny nibbling hope, you learn to expect the worst. Because almost every time, the worst is exactly what you’ll get. Laura Miller, Salon

Oh, God. SO TRUE.

* This brings me to another train of thought: people are once again yelling wildly that digital and self-publishing are nails in the coffin of trad publishing. Um, no. One of the things very few people who sound off about this realize is that digital publishing, (most of) self-publishing, and e-readers largely presuppose a number of things:

-an infrastructure to deliver Internet service
-disposable income/sweat equity to pay for some aspects of self-publishing, and definitely to pay for marketing
-access to or disposable income to buy Internet service
-access to a computer or the disposable income to buy a computer
-access to or the disposable income to buy an e-reader
-that the quality control a trad publisher delivers (editing, copyediting, art departments, proofing, production values) Doesn’t Count

I’m not saying that digital or self-publishing is bad. Far from. I just don’t think a lot of the underpinning assumptions beneath grand sweeping statements about the Death of Trad Publishing or about how Trad Publishers Are Keeping Quality From The Masses are founded on any kind of reality. Plenty of people who are very vocal in this discussion don’t realize that the Internet and e-readers aren’t ubiquitous, it just feels like they are if you have access and income enough to take advantage of them. Self-published successes, or so-called “digital” successes, are still the exception rather than the rule, and trad publishing has better resources and a better track record at this point in time. Trad publishing also makes books available to a vast mass of people who aren’t privileged enough to be plugged in. Sherman Alexie made this point not too long ago:

Having grown up poor, I’m also highly aware that there’s always a massive technology gap between rich and poor kids. I haven’t yet heard what Amazon plans to do about this potential technology gap. And that’s a vital question considering that Bezos wants to change the way we read books. How does he plan to change the way that poor kids read books? How does he plan to make sure that poor kids have access to the technology? Poor kids all over the country don’t have access to current textbooks, so will they have access to Kindle? Sherman Alexie, Edrants

I have very mixed feelings about ebooks. Part of this is because I’m very in love with the sensuous experience of reading a physical book–the smell of the paper, the feel of the pages. Partly because used bookstores and libraries were my salvation before the Internet existed, they were my salvation when I was too poor for a high-speed connection or indeed any connection at all, and they still continue to be the places I patronize when looking for books, because I don’t want to spend the money on an e-reader and deal with the hassle of platform changes, technology burps, and the distributor deciding to take things off my private electronic device even after I’ve paid for them–I could go on and on.

A greater part of my mixed feelings about ebooks comes from the fact that I can look at torrenting sites and see people stealing my work. (Mike Briggs addresses this eloquently in his Copyright And Free piece.) Maybe my books are shoplifted from brick-and-mortars, I don’t know. But I can look and see them being stolen online, and that irritates me.

Now I’ve got some more fiction to commit. Like I said, these are just some thoughts knocking around inside my head today. Make of them what you will, and play nice in comments.

See you around.

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

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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Good To Be

Want to see how the cover for the new Dante Valentine omnibus was shot? There’s a behind-the-scenes video over on the Orbit site. Pretty cool, huh? The omnibus will be out in March ‘11, and as soon as preorders are available I’ll let you guys know.

Yesterday I was pretty much an action hero. I made 10 climbs, 4 of them on 5.8s, which are about the top of my ability right now. Next week my climbing partner and I are going to attempt a 5.9, which will involve a lot more technique and I’m sure a great deal of those sharp sounds of frustration I make when I fall off the wall. But 5.9 is where the serious amateurs start seeing difference in the climbs, I’m told, so it will be challenging and fun. But that’s not why I was a hero–I took people to the airport and saved the day in a situation involving an oil change, for which I was kissed. On the cheek, but still. It’s nice to be appreciated–and it’s good to be competent.

Today is the last day of public school before the summer break, and I’m kind of glad. I miss my kids something fierce during the day. I do cherish my alone time, but it’s going to be a lot of fun to have them home and underfoot. Come September I’ll be glad of a break from having them underfoot, sure. But they’re amazing human beings and they’re young for so short a time. I kind of want to cherish every single bit of it ow that they’re both past those first three years.

The first three years of motherhood are akin to endless Navy SEAL training. Except there’s no R&R time and you can’t drop out if you want to. These little humans are depending on you for everything, and it’s a real trial by fire even if you’re prepared for it. I’m glad I did it, I wouldn’t take a single day of it back, but…I’m still glad that hill is behind me. Next come the foothills of adolescence, where I’m sure I’ll be utterly cool one day and utterly uncool and the Worst Person In The History Of The Universe the next.

“This may surprise you,” I told the Princess the other day, “but I was, indeed, your age once. And I haven’t forgotten what it was like.”

Gods grant that gives me the strength and the sense of humor to deal with her navigating those rocky waters. Heh.

And as usual, there’s a ton of non-writing work, and the writing work. All in all, I’m looking at a gallop straight for the finish line today, and will probably fall into bed exhausted.

Which, well…I like. It’s good to be me today.

I hope it’s good to be you today too.

Over and out.

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