Heaven’s Spite, and Giveaway!

That’s right, it’s the release week for the fifth Jill Kismet book, Heaven’s Spite.

To celebrate, I’ll be giving away three signed copies, over at the Deadline Dames. I regret that I can only ship inside the US, but that’s the way things are. To make it even, I’ll also be giving away a $20 Amazon gift certificate. And what must you do to win these wonderful prizes?

Simple! Just comment on this Deadline Dames post by midnight on Sunday, October 31 (the witching hour on Samhain, even). But not just any old comment, please. You can give your favorite quote, give a Dame a compliment, tell us your favorite Halloween candy or spooky story. The winners will be picked with the help of Random.org, and I may pick a special prize for originality. You never can tell.

I’ll announce the winners next Friday, and (I promise! I promise!) will have the long-awaited next Process Post then.

Thank you for reading! I’m very excited that Jill’s next adventures are out in the world.

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Heaven’s Spite Release Week!

Thanks for all the great congratulations and well-wishes during this release week! It’s been a wait, I know, but I am pleased and proud to say that Heaven’s Spite, the fifth Jill Kismet book, is now out in the wild.

When a new hellbreed comes calling, playing nice isn’t an option. Jill Kismet has no choice but to seek treacherous allies – Perry, the devil she knows, and Melisande Belisa, the cunning Sorrows temptress whose true loyalties are unknown.

Kismet knows Perry and Belisa are likely playing for the same thing–her soul. It’s just too bad, because she expects to beat them at their own game. Except their game is vengeance.

Nobody plays vengeance like Kismet. But if the revenge she seeks damns her, her enemies might get her soul after all…

Now available at Indiebound, Barnes & Noble, Borders, Powell’s, Book Depository, and Amazon!

This was one of the most difficult Kismet books to write. I was coping with immense changes in my personal life, and the book itself is…difficult, in terms of what I had to put Jill through. I mean, I always knew this was coming, it’s the arc beginning in Night Shift and reaching through the final book, Angel Town, which I just finished the zero draft of recently. (It’s resting before revisions.) It’s also extraordinarily difficult to bring Jill’s story that much closer to closing. There is much more I would want to say through her, but it’s time to let her go.

But not for one more book. *grin*

Anyway, I hope you enjoy Heaven’s Spite. I’ll be doing a contest later in the week, so stay tuned!

ETA: I almost forgot! Yes, you can still buy signed and personalized copies through my local indie bookstore, even though they had a fire recently. Drop them an email–they even ship overseas!

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Permission To Create “Bad” Art

Crossposted to the Deadline Dames, who have a shiny new website!

I’ve spent the last two days heaving blindly into whatever receptacle I can find. My stomach staged revolt, right when I had revisions under a tight deadline. So I’m going to bring out an old Midnight Hour writing post for this Friday’s offering. This is from April 25 of 2008, and I don’t think I’ve ever put it here before. Enjoy.

Permission to Create “Bad” Art
April 25, 2008

True to form, life hath served me my Friday post. Last Wednesday I was at a signing for for Elizabeth Lyon and saw some of my old writing students; we chatted a little bit about this very thing. And I’ve been reading f-listers’ thoughts about this particular issue all week. A lot of people seem to be struggling with it, so I’m going to give my two cents.

Coffee? Check. Comfy chair? Check. Idea firmly in mind? Check. Settle in, dear Reader.

Here’s what I want to say in a nutshell: It is perfectly okay to write dreck.

I’ve seen a lot of people lately agonising over the ‘fact’ that they write, well, crap. The plotting is clumsy, pacing nonexistent, they see the book so clearly in their heads but then go back and look at what they’ve written and it seems pale. Spiritless. Stupid. Pointless. They might as well just give it up because it’s not perfect or even very good. After all, they’ll only get rejected. Or they’ve gotten rejected several times already. And it’s horrible, but they’re starting to question this whole writing thing.

And I reply: God, don’t stop. This is when you’re getting better.

Assuming you are consistently practicing your writing, about every six months, stop and look back over something you haven’t touched for the past half-year. Open up the document and read it. And notice what you’d do differently now. When you’re in the wilds of practice, concerned with camping on the plain of the story every night, you don’t have time to notice how far you’re walking, how far you’ve come. You do have to stop and look back hard to realize it, and to realize how your ‘muscles’ have hardened and your craft grown more sure.

The willingness to engage in consistent practice is the willingness to learn. You’re going to have ‘crutches’ and things you rely on. (Like “that”–one of the most overused words in the English tongue–and dialogue tags, my particular follies. But I digress.) That’s why an editor and a good beta are worth their weight in gold and platinum. (Again, I digress.)

Practice has to start out somewhere. We all start out not knowing a story from a scene, the right verb from the wrong adverb, a passive action from an active one. And we all start out, from Chaucer to Hemingway, writing utter crap.

That’s why I call it writing “practice.” It’s just like dance class or tennis practice or even practicing your scales on the piano. You’ve got to make mistakes and stumble in order to learn.

Writing is a little odd in that we see the finished product on the shelves–the months and years of work that went into it are invisible. It takes far, far less time to read a book than it does to:

1. Write the first draft.
2. Get critique/let the manuscript sit
3. Write other drafts, from one to ten
4. Submit and get rejected a million times
5. Get accepted, wait for contract, wait for revision letter
6. Write other revised drafts
7. Arrive at final draft
8. Get copyedits
9. Get proof pages
10. Wait, biting nails, for the book to come out

That process–of a manuscript becoming a book–is so long and complex, and it allows a book to get better. It also grants a book a stamp of reality the half-finished noddles on my hard drive don’t have, the imprimatur of someone actually paid money for this.

Is it any wonder writers feel uncertain? Especially unpublished ones?

Which brings me, in a roundabout way, to the point I started out wanting to make. This is what I used to tell my writing students.

The first million words are practice. They can be as bad as they want to be while you’re learning. It is not important WHAT you write. It is important THAT you write, and write consistently, and keep looking for ways to make your writing better.

As long as you can open up something you wrote six months ago and see that you’ve made some progress, don’t sweat it so much.

You are going to have to accept that you may be too close to your own work to judge it for what it is. Most of the time, this leads to harsh self-judgment, not a clear-eyed appraisal of the work. Plus, the whole system of: crit readers who have egos to feed (possibly at the expense of yours, since there are bullies everywhere), toxic writing groups and classes (not all of them, but we all know my prejudices on this point), rejection by the bucketload (because publishing is a business; it is not about craft but about money, but writers often forget that and think it’s about Them Personally), even more rejection (because your manuscript may be meat to one agent/editor and poison to another), and EVEN MORE REJECTION (insert all other types of rejection here)…well, even the sanest, most thick-skinned writer could be reduced to a bleeding wreck twitching in the water by the end of it, you dig?

You have to find a way to write through all that. You have to give yourself permission to write something that may not be perfect. Even the Grand Old White Men of Litrachur had stinky-ass half-finished pieces of fanfic in their attics. We just don’t hear about those because the books they wrote after ages of practice are now taught in high-school classes. And not only that, but some of the Auld Classics are even crappy books. I can’t read Faulkner to save my life, and some of Dickens’s stuff bores me to tears. I love Dumas but I know lots of people who would rather shoot themselves in the head than read Louise de la Valliere. Even the classics are not immune from bad writing.

If Hemingway, Dumas, Faulkner, and yes, even Shakespeare (dude, have you READ some of the historical plays? YAWN.) struck out occasionally, what makes us think we won’t? Even Heinlein and Bradbury had their less-than-stellar moments. We just didn’t get to see the really horribly dreadful ones while they were learning their craft.

One of the most liberating things I ever read in Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way was this: you have permission to create “bad” art.

Yes, we try to be as good as we can, and a certain level of technical achievement is necessary to get published. But you will never reach that level of technical achievement if you’re not willing to make mistakes. Mistakes will teach you much more than noodling over an easy, perfect piece. Every mistake is a chance, every stumble an invitation to create a new dance step. You are allowed to do something badly while you are learning to do it.

Christ, I struggled with this. My parents were insistent that I had to do everything perfectly the first time–which is, I’ve come to learn, par for the course in abusive or dysfunctional households. Just wrapping my lips around the concept that I could write total crap and have it be okay was a brain-bender right up there with the nature of suffering and the existence of the Divine. It still is. I still get wrapped around the axle of “this can’t possibly be good enough.”

Especially when I’m about three-quarters of the way through a Book That Will Not Die, under deadline and short of sleep, and the entire world seems designed to drive home to me how inadequate I am as a writer and a human being. That’s when it’s hardest to give myself permission to just write the damn thing, get the corpse out on the table and then cut it up and prettify it.

Yeah. Like that.

But that’s another blog post.

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

Cleaning Up

Well, we found out how many people it takes to pack up a bookstore in under 24 hours. The fire was Thursday evening, serious packing started at about 3pm on Friday, and by 2pm on Saturday the owner and I had locked up the empty store. There’s still things there that have to be counted and inventoried for loss, but everything that could possibly be salvaged–around 14 tons of books, shelves, furniture, counters, even Shirley the plastic penguin–is gone. Oh, the espresso machine and pump is still there; a servicing by regular company should clean both of those. Also, I’ll be taking the plants and seeing if I can’t rehabilitate them.

But, yeah. The darling Scupperlout came out and worked her buns off, the owner’s husband is a Mason so plenty of his buddies came by and worked their buns off, and a group of very nice boys from Servicemaster came out. They had no buns to work off–I wanted to feed them, they were all the rangy type. I settled for giving them doughnuts. BUT, they worked hard and in about 24 hours, the entire place was stripped.

“It’s kind of terrifying,” the owner said to me as we headed for our cars in the parking lot, breathing deep.

“At least we know now what happens after a fire. It’s all material,” I replied.

I think she probably wanted to hit me before she saw my tired grin and realized I was messing with her.

The most annoying thing was the vultures and lookie-lous. People would just wander in past the yellow fire tape. “Oh, are you guys closed?” I mean, there’s no electricity. The place is being torn apart. There are signs up front saying “THERE WAS A FIRE. DON’T COME IN.” But in they came. Oh, and people trying to take stuff from the pile out back while the Servicemaster guys were loading. What is wrong with people? Jeez.

Anyway, I’ve been smelling smoke since, even though I immediately washed up when I got home and got what I’d been wearing into the laundry posthaste. It’s weird that smoke-reek lingers so long; we kept having to bug people to take breaks and stand outside to clear themselves out. (My snot’s been gray all weekend. Yeah, TMI. I know.)

It’s weird, but I was too busy to even realize the emotional impact until the Servicemaster guys were carrying out the very last pile of stuff–water heater for the espresso machine, whiteboard I use for my writing classes, miscellaneous things–and I suddenly felt like crying. The store’s been a Safe Place and a home away from home for years now. It’s where I go to give good news and celebrate, and where I go when I don’t want to go home but I need to sit and collect myself in a friendly environment. The books in there are all friends, and I know every inch of the place. To see it all empty and dark because the power’s off, ceiling tiles crumbling onto the floor, everything reeking of fire and the carpeting swelling from water still seeping through, already looking sad and abandoned…that was rough.

Still is.

I don’t know what’s going to happen yet. So much depends on the insurance and if there’s a viable way to get the shop up and running again. The owner and I are already talking about the reshelving party–beer, pizza, and a whole ton of people to get the cleaned and revivified books back up on the shelves. “Careful,” I warned her. “I’m hell on wheels when it comes to inventory, reshelving, the whole deal.”

“You be bad cop,” she said with a grin. “I’ll be good cop.”

Which is pretty much the way it works out anyway. At least some things are eternal.

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News, And A Little Process

Crossposted to the Deadline Dames. Check us out!

You can see the pictures from last night’s Educator Appreciation shindig here; many thanks to Jason of Bluewater Comics for manning the camera! He makes a great paparazzo. I got a chance to hang out with Darren Davis of Bluewater as well, who is just the most darling and scorchingly funny man since Mark Henry. (Which is high praise, believe me.)

In other news, the building that houses our very own favorite indie bookshop, Cover to Cover, caught fire yesterday. Smedley the cat is fine and currently lounging at his summer home well away from the hustle and bustle, none of our employees were hurt, and we’ll be working on getting things squared away over the next few months. It’s a hell of a thing, and if there’s a call for help from C2C I’ll pass it along here.

Last but not least, I am pleased and proud to announce that today I horked up a big 6K chunk of wordage…and finished the zero draft of Angel Town, the final Jill Kismet book. It needs work before I can turn it in as a reasonable first draft, but I have time to do that now before deadline. Which is a huge relief to me.

That’s a part of process I’m going to talk about today, but very briefly because my brain is dry and squoozled. My deadline for this book is two and a half months away, but I need that time for revision and was stressing over getting a zero draft out in time. Part of process is learning what you need in order to turn in publish-quality work, which is not just the first draft that claws its way out of your cerebellum and lands squalling and bloody on your laptop. It pains me to ask for the month of padding I generally need to let a work rest before I can go back and hammer it into first-draft form. There’s always the temptation to bow to the pressure of getting it in sooner, which naturally editors like. Compounding this difficulty is the natural aversion I have to saying “no”.

I’ve learned that a little discomfort when one is negotiating deadline dates is well worth the feeling of having enough time.

I was terrified that I wouldn’t be able to get this book finished, ever. That’s also a part of my process–that long trudge three-quarters of the way through the book, when it seems like the damn thing will not die no matter how much you stab it, that you’ll be writing this forever, that every ounce of your brain is squeezed dry and it’s an unfinishable monster, you’ll miss your deadline, it’s all crap, GOD THE WORLD WILL END AUGH!

The only cure I have found for this is putting my head down and bitching and moaning while I plow straight through. Discipline is essential.

At some point, I will hit a dry spot where I can only produce a couple hundred words a day, but I’ll go back and tighten what’s happened before. This phase frustrated me to no end before I realized it was my engines winding up for the big push. Because sooner or later, after a couple weeks of frustration, suddenly I’m catapulted forward and I’ll have a string of 6-10K days. This won’t stop until I hit the end of the book, at which point I sit there, blinking, and have to shake my head and stare some more to verify that I have, indeed, finished the zero draft.

The first few times, the dead spot in the middle and the frustration phase literally reduced me to tears. I thought I was Doing It Wrong. It wasn’t until it dawned on me that this had happened with every book I’d finished that I started to treat it as just a normal part of the process, for me.

This does not ameliorate the pure frustration or the tooth grinding. It just makes me less likely to give up.

I keep promising you guys process posts, and this one is rather short, but I suspect lots of other writers (or creators) have the same frustration, perhaps at different points in the arc. It might help the tender new writers–or even the slightly more grizzled–to know someone else suffers it too. So, my dears, do you have a similar frustration point, and if you do, where does it occur?

And now I need to go soak my poor head in a bucket. Tune in next week for more SquirrelTerror, and another Process Post!

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Tonight At Barnes & Noble…

I’ll be at the Vancouver Plaza Barnes & Noble from 4-6pm today, for the Educator Appreciation Night.

We celebrate all sixth through 12th grade educators with prizes, goodie bags, treats, special deals and popular teen author Lili St. Crow and graphic novel creator and publisher Darren Davis! Homeschoolers welcome.

I’ll be giving (as far as I know) a short talk, then doing a Q & A. I believe Mr. Davis will be doing the same, and I’m looking forward to it. Come out and see us, if you like!

There’s more to be entered into the annals of SquirrelTerror, but not until next week, because tomorrow is the Friday Writing post and today I’m already behind and flying low to catch up. Plus I’ve got six miles to run, especially since I’m going to be engaging in public speaking tonight. The terror at such a prospect is wonderful fuel for physical fitness, let me tell you.

Catch you later…

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