Events! And Cold Comfort.

It’s Monday, and another scorcher. I spent my Sunday putting together an Ikea dresser. I triumphed, but just barely. Between the dresser and rock climbing, my knees look like hamburger. I could, i suppose, stop using my knees to brace myself as I clamber up the wall…but I doubt that’s going to happen.

Anyway. There’s an interview with me over at the Book Mogul. And this Thursday at 7pm I will be signing at the Cedar Hills Crossing Powell’s! Come on by, if you like. I will be reading from Defiance, the Strange Angels book that won’t be released until spring 2011. So now’s your chance to hear a little of What Happens Next with Dru and her (occasionally) merry crew.

Things have calmed down immensely. There’s a sense of the storm being past. When you decide to no longer deal with someone who creates drama like a thunderstorm creates lightning, there’s a certain relief. I can deal with the guilt of not being able to help –I did literally all I could, and not only am I at a loss to figure out what more I could do, so is everyone else involved in the situation. In other words, things didn’t go belly-up for any lack of work on my part.

Cold comfort, maybe, but you take it where you find it.

And with that, I’m out. See you later, alligators.

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

That Dreaded Syllable: Saying No

Recently I’ve been asked about writing advice that isn’t geared specifically toward new writers or those looking to “break into” print. It’s not often I write about those further along–because careers, like people, are pretty unique, mostly, and any advice I’d be able to give might backfire terribly in someone else’s arena. But I figure what I’m about to say is Reasonable Life Advice as well as Publishing Advice.

My Friday the 13th started about 24 hours early. The 12th was one of the more bizarre days I’ve ever had in my life, and that’s saying something. I’ve found myself today having to say no, in both personal and professional (albeit completely unrelated) situations.

This is not easy.

In the first place, I was raised not to say no when someone pressed an emotional hot button–something like “I need you now.” My only value was how compliant I was, and I was trained well and thoroughly that compliant was what I needed to be to survive. For years it has been extraordinarily easy for anyone I cared about to get pretty much anything they wanted out of me, just by appearing needy or in-crisis enough. Now, taking care of your friends isn’t a bad thing–but you need to be cautious who you call “friend” if that’s a commitment you want to make.

If it’s very distressing for you to say no, you can bet a certain type of person will sense that. And a series of painful games may begin, with you trying to make this type of person happy and avoid saying no. And it can’t be done. You will be sucked dry like an orange slice, and they, flush with stolen vitality, will find another victim. It’s wreckage waiting to happen, and it happens every day.

As a female, too, it’s presumed that I don’t say no. It’s difficult for me to outright refuse someone, especially in high-stress situations. There’s a huge weight of cultural disapprobation involved in a woman saying “No.” Over and over, in many implicit and explicit ways, women are told that it’s necessary to play along, be gentle, be nice, spare everyone’s feelings. And God forbid you should say “No!” and stick to it, or listen to the inner voice that warns you of danger. Then you’re a bitch.

When it comes to working in publishing, another layer of uncertainty and pressure is added. If you say no, there’s always a chance you won’t be invited back. To be a writer is to be a freelancer, and to be a freelancer is profoundly unstable. Every “no” must be weighed against the damage it could do down the road.

You’re beginning to see why a “No!”, whether diplomatic or not, is an act sometimes fraught with danger.

Most often, my “no”s are part of a long process that involves me taking several barometric readings. In the case of a personal no, I usually discuss things with a friend I can trust. I tend to “chew it until the flavor’s gone” and agonize over how hurt someone will be if I say that dreaded single syllable. It takes a lot to make me close up and stop giving.

When it comes to saying no in the writing world, I have to balance the prospect of possibly not getting paid against the trouble the job will take, and how I interact with the editor, and a whole host of other issues before I even get close to saying no. I also often run a prospective “no” past my agent, partly to check in with the longer-term plan for my career and also to get her opinion on the best and most diplomatic way to refuse. It takes a while.

A great deal of my life lately has been saying no in small ways with people I trust. Just to check out what happens when I do so.

And you know, I’m discovering the damndest thing: most of the time, a no given in those situations isn’t really a big deal. The person you say that dreaded single syllable to shrugs and goes on to star in their own life movie. It doesn’t make the sun go out or the world end.

But in the last twenty-four hours, I’ve had to say no in a personal situation where I’ve felt unsafe to refuse, and yet compelled to do so. All my emotional hot buttons have been pushed, and the fact that I was also agonizing over saying no in a professional situation just made it worse. (I should stress again, the two events were in no way related. Except temporally. Bad luck, that.)

It’s been incredibly difficult. I’m fighting against my conditioning, my upbringing, and fighting in the face of a very real fear to say “no” and stick with it. My friends–those I can trust, those who I’ve practiced the little tiny “no”s with–have closed around me like a protective wall, each in their own warm way. I am told over and over again that it’s OK for me to draw my boundaries, that I am not, in fact, crazy, that I have a right to protect myself, and that they love me just as much as ever.

But it’s still tremendously difficult. And the fact that I care for and want to protect the person I’m having to refuse is extraordinarily painful.

Saying no professionally has consequently been more upsetting than usual. It may mean I don’t work with a particular editor again, but it’s a chance I have to take. I pride myself on giving my editors what they need, and I try very hard to be reasonable to work with. Having to refuse, especially when it’s really nobody’s fault and just a mess-up, is utterly crazymaking, and contributes to a round of professional second-guessing and doubt that makes a hurricane look like a teapot tempest.

Which leads me, in a roundabout way, to my advice. If you want to make a career of writing, sooner or later you will have to say “no” to something. Spend some time thinking about saying no. What it means to you to refuse, if you can do so with little angst or if it’s a hot-button issue with you. Figure out how to do it gracefully, figure out if you need backstops and people to talk to before you actually utter the dreaded syllable. Cultivate those habits and the comfort with that one little word now. Being unprepared when the time comes to say it is very uncomfortable. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. I can only imagine how badly I’d feel if I hadn’t been working on this very issue for months.

Now I’m going to go do some deep breathing. And, my dear Readers, if you can, help me out here. What helps you say no? Have you found a trick to it? Do you agonize over it, or is it no big deal to you?

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

Anxiety Ruffles And Singing Weird

I had one of the weirdest anxiety dreams I’ve ever had last night. In it, I ate a whole king-size bag of crisps (Ruffles, for those of you wondering, the really thick ones) while looking for my car. I kept pressing a little button on my key fob that would make the car chirp so I could find it, and each time it chirped it was in a different direction. I finished the whole damn bag of crisps, found the car, and woke up feeling sick and sweaty because I’d been sleeping over a pillow.

Yeah, that’s pretty much how this entire day’s been going. It’s been weird from one end to the other, and I’m running out of time on this blog post too. You know how long it’s been up in a window? About six hours now, and counting.

So, is Mercury retrograde or something? Because the weirdness factor, OMG.

All right. Off I go. Wish me some normal soon. I mean, weird’s pretty much comfortable for me right now…but I’ve got the singing willies, you know, and I’d like them to quiet down so I can get some real work done.

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

Hyperactive Monkey Day

I’ve been amazingly productive–the second draft of Defiance is now resting with the editor, and I’m doing cleanup on the 5th Dru book and getting wordcount in on Jill Kismet, flipping back and forth like a hyperactive monkey. Plus I’ve upped my mileage, cleaned the kitchen, and picked up a few things that will make living in this house easier. All before 2pm.

Either I am going to set a new personal record for Most Things Accomplished In Twelve Hours, or I’m going to hit the slump between 3-4PM and suddenly find myself on the couch, drooling, with absolutely no energy left to do anything.

But while I’ve got it, I’m heading for the horizon. And what’s that in my inbox? Oh, look. An invitation to more work.

The Universe is being kind to me today. *snort*

Cover me, I’m going in.

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Monday Five

Five things this Monday morning!

1. I know I’m supposed to give my body a day off to rest and repair itself. The trouble is, I’ve grown to need my daily running fix, and I get cranky if I don’t have it. Yesterday was my rest day. I woke up angry this morning, bounced through my morning run, and hit the climbing wall. That anger is great fuel, but I don’t like it. I have a healthy fear of the destructive power of my own rage. Thankfully, now that I’ve sweated and hauled myself around like a piece of baggage (seriously, I threw myself at the wall today, it was epic) I am reasonably serene. Now I just need to settle down and steady myself for the task at hand.

2. I had this urge to get a CD playing thunderstorm sounds. So I’ve been playing this since Sunday. What the Muse wants, the Muse gets, and I’m apparently needing to hear thunder and rain. At least the Muse isn’t requiring Eddie Rabbit. You know, I used to have Alvin and the Chipmunks doing I Love A Rainy Night on vinyl. I’m old-skool, yo.

3. I knew, when I walked away from my email this weekend, that I would rue it come Monday morning. *glances at inboxes, weeps* I suppose it’s better than coming back to dead silence…but still.

4. Today’s Girl Genius made me about pee myself laughing. This webcomic saved my life about eight months ago, and it continues to throw in a chuckle or two every week. Nicely done, Agatha and crew!

5. I really need to write some fight scenes. Or, more precisely, I need to go out to the heavy bag and work it a little to get some fight scenes clear in my head. I’m in the mood for writing some old-fashioned fisticuffs. In a bar. Or something. Hey, it’s better than actual fisticuffs in a bar, right?

That’s it, the Monday five. Welcome to my brain this afternoon. It’s a weird place to be.

Over and out…

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If You Want To Get Published…

So today we open up the Deadline Dames mailbag, since I’m seriously scraping barrel-bottom on blog post ideas and it’s Friday. I know my brain will serve up other stuff about writing soon, I’ve just been in revision. Which eats a lot of braincycles, believe me.

So, I’ve stolen a question from the mailbag. Other Dames might have different answers, but I figured I’d give my twopence. Said question is from Reader Sara H., and is very interesting:

So, I’d like to write, maybe not as a career, but as a creative outlet, potentially getting to the point where I might try to have something published. I love the research portion of getting ready to write and I have ideas, but getting them onto paper and getting them onto paper in a grammatically correct way is becoming a problem. I have a, History degree, so I can write a fantastic essay about the Nazi art movement or how Martin Luther was the first multi-media rock star, but writing a scene of dialogue or switching POVs makes me want to break out in a cold sweat. I’ve thought about signing up for a creative writing class. Is this a waste of money? Should I maybe just go out and buy a style guide or am I beyond all hope?

Hi, Sara.

Well, you’ve taken the first step, which is realizing that academic or history-essay writing isn’t the same as fiction or genre fiction writing. I like to compare it to sports–different sports use different muscles, and writing in different styles or to different purposes uses different mental “muscles.” You wouldn’t believe how many people who want to write a novel that has a chance of selling don’t grasp that simple, essential fact.

First of all, are you absolutely sure you want to write to publish? Maybe research is all you want to do. If you’re absolutely certain you want to go ahead, think about why. Make a list, verbalize what you want to a trusted person, that sort of thing. A few moments spent discovering your own motivations and what you hope to get out of striving toward publication can be extraordinarily helpful, not least because it can tell you if this is something you really want to do. It’s a lot of hard work.

If you’re sure you want to get something published, and want to develop your novel-writing muscles, then here are some things you can do, and some things you should probably take into account. Ready?

* Treat this goal as a priority. Yeah, I say this a lot. No matter how talented or special you are, the chances of you tossing off a manuscript that will get snapped up first thing are pretty damn small. If you expect just to weekend-warrior it, your chances of getting to the finish line on any novel, not least a publishable novel, are not very high either. Get out your timers, make your lists, do whatever you have to do to prioritize two chunks of your time. One chunk is for researching the novel-writing and publication process. (There’s tons of advice, both at the Deadline Dames and on my own blog, not to mention many others, that can help you here.) The other chunk is for sitting your ass in a chair, putting your fingers on a keyboard, and taking a whack at it. Which brings us to:

* Recognize that there is a learning curve, and your first attempts will suck pretty hard. Just like you didn’t write a 1500-word one-subject essay perfectly the first time, you will not write a reasonable novel weighing in at industry standard (75-120K words, complex plot, characterization, etc., etc.) the first time. You probably will not even get close. Sorry about that. This sort of thing takes practice. For the first two novels, you’re not looking to win or to place. You’re just looking to finish.

* Don’t get bogged down. Do not cough up one novel-sized chunk of text and think you’re done. If you want to get published, endlessly flogging your first attempt at the novel form is not a good way to maximize your chances. It’s like van Gogh stopping after the first painting he ever attempted and declaring that he wouldn’t set brush to canvas again until someone recognized his geeeeenyus and paid him for it. Not only would that not have worked no matter HOW talented dear Vincent was, it also would have deprived the world of his later works.

* Study the form you are attempting. You already read novels, I’m guessing, and since you’re asking the Dames I’m betting you’re reading what you’d like to write–UF, paranormal suspense/romance, etc. If you’re not reading what you’d like to write…start. Set aside time for doing this. Give yourself a couple months to read with no other purpose than enjoyment and familiarity. Then get out a legal pad and a pen while you read, and start writing things down. Write down what works for you in the novels you’re reading, write down what doesn’t, write down what you would have done differently, make a note of typos or continuity errors you find. (You’re not doing this to “catch someone out”–try to avoid the little self-righteous thrill you may receive when you spot a typo or error.) This is to force you to think critically about the form and structure of what you’ll be attempting.

A slight caution here: once you’ve exercised those critical muscles, it might be difficult to go back to reading plainly for pleasure. Sorry about that. This is, incidentally, why I read so much nonfiction–because when I read fiction, I tend to reach for my pen and pad and start making notes as if I’m an editor. *headdesk* A book really has to work to pull me along so I don’t start checking under the hood, so to speak.

* Publishing is hurry up and wait. So’s writing, sometimes. When I finish a manuscript, I have time built into my schedule to set the damn thing aside. I don’t look at it–sometimes for a couple weeks, sometimes for a month or two. This is so when I go back, it’s relatively fresh for me. I have a better chance of reading it critically, of spotting small errors, and of seeing continuity/character problems.

Also, getting an agent or getting a manuscript accepted for publication is so not the end of the road. There are revisions, copyedits, proof pages, cover copy and other decisions, the wait for a release date, then the waiting for “numbers” that may or may not mean the publisher will want another book…in short, writing the manuscript is only the very first step of a long and arduous process. This process will take ten to twenty times more time than you ever dreamed possible. It will wear your nerves down to nubs. You’ve been warned.

Now let’s move along to some nitty-gritty.

* Dialogue is how people talk, but it’s also moving the plot along. Dialogue has to serve three purposes. It has to reveal character. It must also move the plot forward. Not only that, it must not sound clumsy/unreal. This is a tall order! So, to sharpen your ear for dialogue, go to public places (the mall, a casino, etc.), settle down with a coffee and your trusty notebook, and eavesdrop. Listen to how people speak. Listen to what they don’t say. Get your favorite movies and “watch” them–blindfolded. Listen to the dialogue and think about how it reveals character, see if you can tell what the people onscreen are doing by what they’re saying. Read your own dialogue out loud and think, really think about if it advances the plot and sounds like something a Real Person would say.

Real People talk with “um”s and “uh”s and “yeah”s and all sorts of other placeholders. People in books or movies can’t do that without a VERY good reason. Ideally a piece of dialogue gives you a mental snapshot of how a character’s thinking or feeling AND gives you information/impetus to move the story along. Sounds difficult, right? That’s because it is. Listen and practice, and your dialogue will get better.

* POV must be a conscious choice–you must know WHY you’ve chosen a particular POV. When I write in 1st, I have a small keyhole through which I–and the reader–must view the world I’ve created. That tight focus allows for immersion into a character, an immersion that theoretically makes it easier for the reader to identify with/feel for the main character.

The problem with 1st is that I must show other characters doing things and responding in a way that the reader will recognize but that the narrator may not. When I write in 3rd, I have much greater leeway and a broader “scope”, but I have to work twice as hard to show what my hero/ine is really thinking or feeling–and three times as hard to get the reader to identify with and care for said hero/ine. Each is a tradeoff, and you won’t know which is right for a story until you’ve practiced with both and understand the limitations and advantages of both. This is, incidentally, a big reason why anyone’s first finished manuscript pretty much sucks. This takes time and practice to figure out.

Opinion time: I have read ONE book in my life where the author pulled off multiple 1st-person POVs and made them work. (This was Peter Beagle’s The Innkeeper’s Song, if you’re interested.) If you have to cheat by throwing in another character’s POV two-thirds of the way through the book because there’s information your main character/reader can’t get in any other way? Unless you’re extraordinarily skilled AND talented, I’m going to call that a cheat and you’re going to lose me. It’s jarring, and I dislike it intensely. This is why I say POV must be a conscious choice–you’ve got to know why you’re doing it, and play to the strengths that particular POV gives you while figuring out a way around its limitations.

* A class might be a good idea. Or it might not. We all know how I feel about workshops, classes, and agendas. The only two creative-writing classes I was ever in were run by petty tyros who got off on destroying their students emotionally. On the other hand, I’ve run a couple writing classes myself, and they seem to have gone OK. (You’d have to ask the Scupperlout if I was a petty tyro, though.)

If you really want to take a class or a workshop, go into it prepared to learn–but not necessarily to learn about writing. Classes and workshops are more often about someone’s emotional agenda than about information-sharing; that can be great material. There are exceptions, but my personal advice is that the time is better spent writing and the money is better spent on postage or research on the market.

I could go on–especially about style guides and reference books–but this post is already a monster. Sara, you asked a very complex and interesting question, probably far more complex than you really knew. I hope this helps. You’re the only person who can decide if the goal of writing to publication is for you, and you’re the only person who can write yourself there. A lot of it is hard thankless work, but you do get a few chuckles along the way.

Good luck!

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