Decompress Smart, Not Hard

Just a little catch-up today, since I have two books hanging fire in copyedits and another round of revisions.

For those of you asking when RECKONING will be out, I think it’s later this year–November 2011, if my memory serves me correctly. Yes, it will be the last book in the Strange Angels series. Dru’s story must and will come to a close.

Libba Bray tells you what it’s like to write a book, every time. I laughed so hard I almost cried, nodding my head over and over.

Here’s a post from Jaym Gates on decompressing, and how it’s necessary.

I do not disagree with Ms. Gates, but my non-disagreement comes with a couple important codicils. I am firmly in the “Gotta write every day” category. I don’t see how it’s possible to produce quality work in a timely manner without that practice and habit being built up over a reasonable period of time. This is my opinion, and I’m sticking to it. I’ve gotten flak for it, sure, but I’ve never seen a compelling argument for any other way.

That being said, there does come a point, when you have professionally or consistently written for a while, when you can take some time off. Because even during the time off, some part of your brain is still working on the story. It becomes a reflex. Still, this is dangerous. It’s easy to get out of the habit of writing every day, it’s easy to procrastinate, just like it’s easy to get out of the habit of regular physical workouts. An occasional day off, or a necessary decompression or two, is something one grants oneself while hopefully being fully aware of that danger. It’s good to take a vacation, but the hard part is getting back up on the horse again afterward. It is that–the determination to get back up on the horse–that is critical and crucial, and being in the habit of writing every day maximizes one’s chances. Human beings are wired for habit; make it work for you.

Here’s another codicil:

Back in the long ago days when I actually WROTE on a regular basis, that quote headlined every writing advice post I read. That was back when I had all sorts of world-building charts and questionnaires and Debated About First Person Vs Third with Great Seriousness on Official Writing Forums. At that point, you could probably have told me that standing on my head would get me published, and gotten instant obedience. (Jaym Gates)

World-building charts and questionnaires might be useful tools in moderation, but they’re not writing. Debating on online forums is not writing. A lot of new or aspiring writers make the mistake of thinking procrastination or the Internet is actual writing work. It’s the same principle the diet or self-help industry makes its money from: people confusing the effort of reading the books/watching the DVDs/whatever for actual effort spent getting exercise or doing hard nasty self-work. One gets an ersatz jolt from the book/CD/DVD, there is a flush of feeling good, then sooner or later the flush wears off, the problems reassert themselves, and a new diet/self-help book is sought.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t spend time outlining or on the Internet. That would be hypocritical as well as false. What I’m saying is: when you think you’re burning out on writing, look at the effort you’re spending on things you mistake for writing, and cut those things out first. Do not cut out the writing first thing. The writing is the whole point, cutting it out is shooting yourself in the foot. If you’ve cut away the procrastination, the Internet, all the little fiddles and indiscretions we use to hide from the writing, and you’re still burning out on producing the story, then it’s time to consider decompression.

And now, time for me to take some of my own medicine, get the hell off the Internet, and get some of these copyedits wrangled. I’ve got wordcount to get in today, too.

Over and out.

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

You’re Asking What?

He has been scrutinized for months now, his accuracy questioned and his decision to return to school second-guessed. He has never bristled, showing the kind of composure that any coach would love to see in the pocket.

There have been fun moments like the ESPN feature with former NFL coach Jon Gruden and his famously intense film study. There have been awkward times, too. Like the interview question from a team that threw Locker for a loop: Would you give your 16-year-old daughter birth control.

“It caught me off guard,” he said. “Maybe it was to see how I would respond.” (Boston Herald)

Well, yes. That would catch one off-guard, wouldn’t it.

This is a guy being drafted into a football team. He will be playing a made-up game that glorifies violence and aggression, and probably be paid very well for it. That’s his choice, I have no problem with that. I like rock climbing, he likes throwing a pigskin for imaginary points. One man’s meat, and all.

Here is what mystifies me: why the hell are “they” (I presume this is a team he might be drafted into) asking him a question like this? The underlying assumption is that he would “give” or “allow” his daughter birth control. Well, if the alternative is a teen pregnancy or an STD, such a move might be considered responsible parenting. Parents are here to teach their children to be adults, and to help kids in the years before their ability to understand consequences is fully developed. (If you even try to trot out the old canard about abstinence education being effective, just stop right there.) I’ve written before about the pervading and pervasive cultural assumption that women are property, passed from their fathers to their husbands in no unequivocal terms. Is this question an outgrowth of that assumption? That troubles me on a meta level, but what troubles me even more is that this is a throwaway line in the middle of a piece of reporting*, obviously considered of little consequence except for its “entertainment” value. (I actually got the link from a Mental Floss tweet.) It’s considered no big deal. The indifference is breathtaking.

My answer to a question like that would be, “What? Why the fuck do you think that is your business? It’s my family’s business, and beyond that, it’s my daughter’s business, and what is a collection of men doing asking about this?” I’m fairly sure I would give whoever asked such a ridiculous, repugnant, invasive question a stinging verbal dressing-down before leaving the room determined never to do business with them again, in any way, since they are capable of (and have no qualms about, apparently) such inappropriate asshattery. This is what I immediately thought, “What the hell is this guy doing, sitting there calmly while a bunch of jerks asks him this?”

He’s a college player, so it’s vanishingly unlikely that he has a 16-year old daughter, or that he will for quite some time. You could argue, I suppose, that they wanted to “provoke” him to see how he would respond on the field. My reply is: bullshit. This man is going to make a living playing a violent game that encourages, facilitates, and rewards violent behavior. A question this stupid, phrased this casually, especially when it’s totally irrelevant because the guy is what, 20?, is not going to give you any goddamn idea of how he’s going to behave after you finish another few years of rewarding the type of behavior football requires and endorses from its players. It’s like asking a llama how it feels about tap dancing–it just doesn’t even fricking apply.

And, I reiterate: the whole thing is just thrown into the middle of a “news” article, like it’s no big deal. Wink wink, nudge nudge, isn’t this funny, the important thing is this guy can play this made-up game and might be invited to play this made-up game somewhere else for a lot of money.

It just boggles the mind.

* However much sports “reporting” can qualify for that name, that is.

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Absurdity of Every Day

A reminder: the winners for the Defiance contest are posted here. I have not heard from all of the winners yet! Please pipe up by Friday at midnight PST.

Facing a bright, beautiful, sunny day with a low-grade fever makes the absurdity of everyday life painfully, hilariously obvious. I’m not sure when I’ve been this amused and amazed. I mean, normally I’m in a state of amused amazement anyway–you could say, along with sarcasm, that it’s my natural default. But today just seems designed to remind me that the world is far weirder than anything I could ever dream up, and I’m just along for the ride.

Things I have seen this morning:

* Several couples out walking. The absurdity: invariably, one-half of these couples has a cellphone firmly clasped to his or her ear. A bright sunny day, you’re out walking with someone, and yet the only thing you can do is yap on your phone? Added bonus: 90% of those on the cells are conversing loud enough to be heard across the street.

* A truck loaded with scrap metal slowly cruising the neighborhood, windows down, a cigar-chomping man with a red bandanna around his head singing along at top volume to ranchero music. This would have been okay if he hadn’t been singing rousing round after round of “Row Row Row Your Boat” in merry defiance of his blasting radio.

* A trail of Almond Joy wrappers along my usual route, as if a suburban Hansel and Gretel had pillaged the witch’s house and decided to go a-wandering.

* A fierce battle among six crows for an empty McFlurry cup. Screeching, cawing, wing buffets, it was incredible. We didn’t get to see who won.

* A ragged man weaving down the middle of the (deserted, residential) street, carrying on a (VERY LOUD) conversation with the surrounding air about red cockroaches. Miss B. eyed him with much suspicion. I reached for my cell phone–he looked like he was having a rough time of it. I figured the least I could do was call someone to help restrain him from wandering out into traffic. I didn’t have time. The man suddenly stopped, tore his shirt off, and bolted. Miss B. looked like she wanted to HEEEEERD him, and by the time I had her convinced it wasn’t a good idea because I wasn’t going to run and after all, there was the little matter of a leash attached to my wrist that I was not going to let go of, he had disappeared. The shirt was still lying sodden in the middle of the road when we returned from our walk.

* A squirrel interrupted in the act of apparently trying to make sweet sweet love to a sad, abandoned, punctured football. Despite Miss B.’s usual quivering glee at the idea of even getting close enough to one of Neo’s furry brethren to heeeeeerd it, she just looked at this particular amorous rodent and cocked her head, then looked at me. What, um, should we do about this?, she seemed to say.

“Just…oh, God. Just leave him to it, I guess.” I twitched the leash and we kept going. However, we must have broken the mood, for the lonely squirrel beat a hasty retreat to the shelter of a dead tree.

I don’t even know.

Anyway, that was the morning’s walk. (I could go on and on, but you wouldn’t believe some of the other stuff.) I would blame most of the absurdity on the low-grade fever and exhaustion, but every day is a new cavalcade of weird here in our humble neighborhood. I can’t tell if it’s because I live here, or just because people are really that strange, and now that it’s spring they can just let their freak flags fly.

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Winners! Revisions! Worm-eaten brainmonkeys!

The winners for the DEFIANCE contest are posted here at Deadline Dames! Thanks for all the great trivia–I learned an incredible amount reading those comments. My Readers have a vast store of knowledge. When I take over the world, I shall be depending on each of you to advise me.

My weekend was long periods of intense work broken only by moments of reaching for the next batch of Easter candy to shove down my gullet. Yes, that’s right–I was revising. Or, if you want to be precise, doing the first revision after an editorial letter for a book I wrote three years ago or so. I kept looking at the screen in disbelief, shaking my head and tasting vomit because I’d written something that sucked so hugely. Which is a normal thing for me during revisions, really, but looking at any work more than six months old is an incredibly disheartening experience. I take comfort in the fact that, while I might not know if I’ve gotten better in the intervening time, at least I know my writing style has changed.

This particular book started out at about 100K words, and now stands at about 125K. This is, for me, an absolute doorstop of a book. My editor wanted more more more, so I obliged, and since the work had good bones…well, I guess I’ll find out what she thinks in a little bit. Since I’ve finished and sent it back early, pleading for her to be only as savage with it as she must.

Notice I don’t ask for kindness. Kindness, while it may save whatever tattered shards of ego I have left, will not make the book better.

Anyway. I am looking forward to announcing this project as soon as I get the official okay-go-ahead. In the meantime, here, have some Chuck Wendig: 25 things a writer should know. I’ll just point and say, what he said.

After the push to get the revisions done (steady progress yesterday was marred by a corrupted file and the loss of an hour’s worth of work, thank God it wasn’t more, but it was in the last twenty fricking pages and I almost wept like the little girl I pretend to be sometimes when luring my victims in, whole ‘nother story, tell you later), catching up (mostly) on correspondence, and finishing a review that had been languishing on my hard drive for two weeks, I don’t have a lot of usable gray matter left in my tiny little skull. If you need me, I’ll be over in the corner rocking back and forth and reading about the Ardennes offensive. *whimpers*

Over and out.

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

DEFIANCE Giveaway!

That’s right, yesterday was the official launch of the fourth in the Strange Angels series, Defiance. I celebrated with Episode 2 of my podcast, Ragged Feathers. But that wasn’t nearly enough celebration, so today, I’m giving books away!

What you can win: There will be four (4) winners. I will be giving away three (3) signed copies of Defiance (note: if you’re outside the US, I will have to send books to you through BookDepository instead, sorry about that.) ONE lucky winner will get a set of all Strange Angels books so far–Strange Angels, Betrayals, Jealousy, Defiance–again, signed if you’re in the US, sent through BookDepository if you’re not.

What you do: In the comments of this post over at the Deadline Dames, you’ve got to tell me the best piece of trivia you ever found. I’m not talking about the most arcane, or the one you think will impress other people. I’m talking about that useless fact you found that made you deeply happy, made your socks roll up and down and your pants fly off. The winners will be picked with the help of Random.org; if the random spits out a comment number that has no trivia I’ll pick another. Remember, you must go to the Deadline Dames post to comment in order to win!

Ready? GO!

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

DEFIANCE Release!

ETA: A new podcast episode about the Defiance release, a semi-coherent rant, and Reader shout-outs is now up! Hooray!

Now for the giveaway announcement. Tomorrow is my day to blog at the Deadline Dames. I’ll be giving away three copies of Defiance, signed if the winner lives in the US, shipped through the Book Depository if you’re outside. To win, you’ll need to leave a comment with the most interesting bit of trivia you know. So be thinking, until then.

***

That’s right–the fourth book in the Strange Angels series, Defiance, is officially released today!

Dru Anderson has always been a good listener. She listened to her dad, but had to gun him down herself when he turned zombie. She listened to the Order, but got nothing but lied to in return. She listened to Christophe, and lost the only friend she had left.

Time to buckle up, boys and girls. Dru Anderson is done listening. From here on out, she’ll face the King of the Vampires on her own terms. And if the Order has a problem with it, they can kiss their sweet little svetocha goodbye…

There’s a free excerpt here, and Defiance is available through Barnes & Noble, Borders, Booksamillion, the Book Depository, and Amazon.

If you want a signed copy, no problem! Just drop an email to the friendly folks at Cover to Cover Books. Of, you can tune in later on in the day to my giveaway. Stick around!

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Your Shapechanger, Fear

You know, dry pants do help to civilize one.

This morning I ran several errands with Miss B. along. She still isn’t too sure about car rides, but one of the errands was a 2+ mile walk in the rain, and she was glad to get back into the car after that and spent the rest of the errands snoozing.I did not think of myself as the type of high-energy person who could wear out an Australian shepherd, but apparently, I am. My vision of myself as a sedentary, ambitionless lump is taking rather a hard knock or two.

However, breaking up the errands with that walk meant that for about an hour and a half I was wandering around soaked from mid-thigh down. My feet were okay–wool socks and combat boots, so my toesies were damp but not cold–but my jeans were absolutely dripping. I’m sure I left a trail of moss behind. I have to say, peeling out of wet clothes and into dry is one of the most sensual, civilizing experiences I’ve had the pleasure of encountering. It’s right up there with hot tea, good Thai food, a glass of Sangiovese, and the ability to press a button and hear Beethoven.

Ahhhh.

Anyway, it’s Friday. I’ve grown away from doing Friday writing posts. It’s not that I ran out of things to say. Far, far from. There just hasn’t been a lot of bandwidth available, what with three books due this year, another few books in revision and proofs and copyedits, gah, plus the constant chaos of two kids, now with extra dog.

*time passes*

I wrote all that this morning, then left for afternoon errands. Now I’m here trying to pick up the train of thought that derailed when I looked at the clock and thought oh, dammit, almost late! It was very White Rabbit of me. In any case, I have limited time now before the set of evening tasks rises up to gnaw at my ankles and demand my attention, so let’s get on with it.

To quote Stephen King: Let’s talk, you and I. Let’s talk about fear.

Read the rest of this entry »

Snap, Bite, Growl, Anyway

I’m over at Bitten By Books today, along with the rest of the crew from the Those Who Fight Monsters anthology. There’s a contest, too, tempty-tempty.

Now for the not-so-pleasant. Oh, tax time. You know, as a single mother, maybe I shouldn’t be penalized so heavily. And really, if I have to pay this amount in taxes, why can’t I have better schools? Better roads? And universal health care? Oh, that’s right–because I exist only at the pleasure of the corporations who are people now. And because the super-rich have managed to ram through a budget that cuts social safety nets to ribbons so they can feed the war machine. We can afford wars, but we can’t afford to relieve some poverty. The commie poor might get ideas above their station, after all.

I wouldn’t mind paying goddamn taxes if the cash was spent on infrastructure, education, and a social safety net instead of corporate welfare and the goddamn war machine. Oh, don’t mind me, I’m just bitter. Jesus. ANYWAY.

It’s a nice day, sunny and beautiful. I’m shifting between Bannon & Clare and a separate project I can’t announce yet. (So exciting.) Miss B., after a morning walk in which she was absolutely full of all sorts of vinegar and baking soda, is now sacked out at my feet and evinces absolutely no desire to go outside. This will change once the Little Prince comes home from school, I fancy.

One of the things I’m struggling with while writing now is just how much verite to put into a sort of alternate-historical fantasy. I am playing fast and loose with Londinium and with history. No doubt there will be a great deal of screaming. No actual cities are ever harmed in the making of these books, but plenty of electrons are terribly inconvenienced, to mashup a phrase.

Anyway, it’s time to turn to the Sekrit Projekt and do some pen and paper work. I can barely sit still, it’s so exciting. This is another Year Of Doing Things I’ve Never Done Before, and I’m terrified enough to think it’s grand fun. Off I go to get into more trouble…

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The Sea Came To Me

Morning walk was a treat. Sometimes when the wind is just right, you can even smell the sea, which scratches that itch quite nicely. I don’t feel like myself if I don’t see crashing waves every now and again, but I don’t get out to the beach nearly as often as I should. That may change this summer, with a dog and a decent car. We’ll see.

Unfortunately, I’d have to clear three months’ worth of work before I could afford to take a weekend off. No pain, no gain.

Miss B. is sacked out at my feet–I worked her hard this morning. I’m even wearing out a mini-Aussie, for heaven’s sake. I didn’t think it was possible. Oh well, a tired dog is a well-behaved dog, and all that.

Spring Break is over, the house is quiet because the kidlings are back at school, and I’m settling in. Before I turn off the wireless and get cracking writing the destruction of a whole Londinium shipyard, though, here’s some linkage!

* This is why I’m not letting Miss B. go outside alone. Also, when you have to use baby strollers as bait to catch squirrels…yeah.

* Courtesy of the lovely Mazoku, a little cautionary tale about caffeine. Well, maybe not cautionary. Maybe more like, I’d try this at home just to see the dude in the Matrix coat.

* This morning’s musecrack from my writing partner: a Laura Marling video. There’s a selkie story just begging to be written there.

* Just a note: the Reckoning cover that’s making the rounds on Goodreads? It’s not the final one, guys.

And now I need to plan that shipyard rumble with the assassin, the mad Bavarian genius, the mentath Clare, and a couple of prematurely-awakened mecha. This afternoon will be given over to revising a certain Sekrit Project I hope to announce soon. Let’s just say that if you like the way I write fantasy, you’re in for a treat.

Over and out.

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Finishing Requires Finishing

It is really hilarious to have a herding dog. This morning she tried to herd some crows. They laughed at her, she kept bellowing “HEEEEEERD IT!” and I was laughing too hard to step in as soon as I should have. Also, this morning’s three-mile walk was full of squirrel reconnaissance. They kept poking their heads out of shrubs and mumbling into their walkie-talkies. I was concerned, but Miss B gave my fears short shrift. “LET ‘EM COME! I’LL HEEEEERD THEM TOO!”

After the exciting walkies, Miss B is all knackered, with the result that whenever I go into another room she follows me, then flops down heavily with a sigh and stares at me like you’re not gonna make me move again, are you? Poor thing. I didn’t think I could wear out an Aussie, for heaven’s sake.

So I’m settled in with a cuppa and a metric ton of triple-ginger gingersnaps. (I have absolutely, positively no self-control when it comes to these gingersnaps. I will eat a whole tub of them in a day unless I hide them from myself, and sometimes even then.) And it’s time for a Reader Question! I had planned to put this in the podcast (still working on #2, sorry) but it’s probably better to do it here. Today’s question is from Reader Anna C:

I’d like to think of myself as a bit of a writer, although in everything I try to write, I hit a stumbling block after thirty pages or so.

Your blog has helped me immensely over the months but I keep getting stuck at The Hole. I’ve got the idea and a chunk of writing down and it’s very shiny and golden and the style is exactly how I want the rest of the book to go. But then I fall into The Hole and the writing steadily disintegrates from there. The style differs greatly from when I’ve begun and it just seems to get worse and worse.

Your advice so far seems to consist of putting my head down and plodding along and its seeming to work (I set a New Year’s Resolution of at least 1K a day). I was just wondering if there was anything else I could do to help it along, or whether I should just finish the damn thing and work on revisions to get the style right. (Reader Anna C., from email)

Try to consider this idea: perhaps your “style” isn’t changing. Perhaps your perception of your “style” is changing. You may just hit the Slough of Despond part of writing a novel. Every time one sets out to write a novel, there’s the “oooh shiny!” in the beginning, and then, sooner or later, it becomes The Book That Will Not Die No Matter How Many Times You Stab, Slash, Hack, Burn, Or Otherwise Try To Murder It.

The interesting thing about the slog, for me, is that it started out being at the end of the first third of a book. Nowadays, it’s reliably after halfway or at the very latest, two-thirds of the way through that it will hit me. Working through it time and again seems to have inoculated me, at least slightly. Total immunity, I’m afraid, is not really possible.

Your perception of your “style” changing from “golden” to suckage is not unique. This alchemical reaction happens to every writer (indeed, I’d bet money it happens to every artist, no matter the medium) and, like puberty, it’s overwhelming and robs you of perspective. I haven’t found any cure for this. The only thing that helps me is the snarling stubbornness. So it sucks? Fine. I’ll make it be the best suckitude EVER. Take THAT, self-doubt! Nyah!

Not very adult, but it gets me through.

Above all, keep writing. If you have not finished a piece yet, you need the experience of finishing in order to gain some small amount of perspective on the process, and to prove to yourself that you CAN. It wasn’t until my third or fourth finished manuscript that I began to see the pattern and the various ways I would try to trick or sabotage myself out of getting the damn thing well and truly done. Like facing any fear, the first time is often the hardest. Then you know you’ve done it at least once, and you have object proof that the world didn’t end and it perhaps wasn’t as bad as you thought it was going to be.

When faced with this, I am reminded of something Stephen King had Adrian Mellon, a minor character in IT, say. “It may be a terrible novel,” the writer remarks, “but it will no longer be a terrible unfinished novel.” That’s always stuck with me. Whether the book sucks or not is not important. You can’t hope to get better at writing a complete book without writing complete books, which means finishing. Just try to keep in mind that the perception of your “style” changing and suddenly sucking may not be the absolute truth, and if it is, well, you’ve a better chance at fixing it when it’s seen in relation to the whole, finished story.

Over and out.

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