Kicking Distance

Over at the Deadline Dames today I talk about what I do when I’m not writing. Also, I told you guys I was going to get another tattoo, I did.

Unfortunately, the other news around here is that the Little Prince brought home a summer cold, and it’s one of those stupid ones that lingers in the back of the throat, tasting like Pine-Sol. Just enough snot to be icky, but not enough to really justify staying in bed, and feeling like you’ve been hit by a truck.

Yeah. Like that.

So, I’m going to go pour more hot tea and cool water down my throat, load up on vitamin C, and get back in the game tomorrow. Or, if not back in the game, at least within kicking distance of the board.

See you then.

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

Valuable Skills Learned By Telling Lies For A Living

Crossposted to the Deadline Dames, where there’s tons more writing advice, contests, and pie! (Okay, maybe no pie.) Check us out!

Every once in a while, I like to sit down and think of about five things to make a post. Since I’m exhausted and stare-eyed after a long, very busy week that went straight through the weekend without even pausing to nod, I see this as a very good strategy for today. So, without further ado, here’s Five Things Writing Will Teach You, Or, Valuable Skills Learned By Telling Lies For A Living.

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Five Bits of (Maybe Useless) Advice

I’m under huge copyedit crunch, but it’s my day to post at the Deadline Dames. So, in honor of the occasion (if by “occasion” one means “feeling like my head is going to explode and that would be welcome because I would be DEAD and not worrying about these GODDAMN things”) here’s Five Bits of (Maybe Useless) Advice About Being a Working Writer:

5. No matter how much you love your book, be prepared to get sick of it. After at least two (sometimes as many as five or six or God forbid more) drafts, at least one (but likely more) revision letter(s), copyedits where some poor soul goes through and checks every damn comma, and proof pages where you search for typos, dropped words, and stets that didn’t make it through, you will become so fucking sick of this book you will want to stab it, pour petrol on it, light it, and stamp on it while singing a stabby-burny song and mutilating it afresh with your red-hot spurs of discontent. This is normal. If you can’t handle hating your own work or getting so sick of a project you literally want to put your fist through a brick wall (or someone’s head), this is not the career for you. Every goddamn job has aspects you won’t like. Finding the way to make them palatable is how we amuse the gods (and each other, most often on reality TV).

4. Your editor, your copyeditor, the Marketing folks, and the Production department are NOT your enemies. Your editor will tell you that parts of the work are weak and need to be fixed. Your copyeditor will make you feel like a goddamn fool by catching every punctuation error you ever thought of committing, plus a few you don’t even know how the hell happened. The Marketing folks will rub you the wrong way with cover copy, cover design, too much or too little publicity (or too much of the wrong publicity, or too little of the right publicity, or some other damn thing). Production will give you short turnaround dates, or piss you off in some way over something. This is normal. Working with other people is a goddamn hassle.

Get over it.

Editor, copyeditor, Marketing, Production–they have one goal. That is to make this book they’re working on right now the best book it can be. They are in the trenches at your side. They are your buddies, your comrades, your platoon. They may get on your nerves, but they are looking out for you the best way they know how, especially when the bullets come flying. It’s a feather in their caps when your book goes well. No matter how pissed off you are, remember they are not your enemies, that their priority is to make your book shine as much as it can, and they may see things you don’t. Don’t fire on them.

3. Sometimes you’ve got to turn the goddamn Internet off. Need I say more? I love Freedom. It was the best $10 I ever spent for my productivity.

What’s that? You in the back? What? But what if I need to research something while the Internet’s off? Mark it in the manuscript with a [[ thing I need to research ]] and move on. Get past it, and when you’re on the Net again, then look it up and search for [[ or ]] in your manuscript. Getting dragged into looking up the sex habits of Arctic flesh-eating bacteria is a slippery, slippery slope, my friends. You could lose days on that shit. (Or so I’ve heard.)

2. Decide on your stress tolerance early. Someone once told me that everyone has a certain tolerance for stress, and even if they arrange their lives to hit below that threshold, they will create shit to stress over until they hit the level they’re geared toward. “You don’t lower your stress,” he continued, staring into his bourbon. “You lower your tolerance.” Which was great advice, and I wish I’d thought to write down his phone number. Because he was pretty good-looking too, and he had a nice leather jacket.

Ahem. Anyway. Look not at your stress, young Padawans. Look at your tolerance, and see if you’re creating more stress for yourself by fretting over some aspects of your writing/writing career/whatever. Then start interrupting the stress-wave before it starts to build. Get up and dance, or something, scream at your computer, go for a skydive. Whatever works.

1. Give yourself some tiny rewards. I bargain with myself so often, it’s like I’m fricking Mephistopheles on crack trying to damn myself. “Set the timer. Ten minutes, and I can read the latest Girl Genius.” Or, “Fifteen more minutes, then you can roll on the floor with the dog and pretend you’re a poodle.” Or, “Another half-hour, and you can have a handful of Fritos.” Or, “Okay, Lili, if you get to 3K words, you can take the kids out for dinner so you don’t have to cook.” Or, “Get fifty pages of proofs out of the way and you can spend twenty minutes on Twitter making yourself look like an idiot.”

Hey, whatever works.

To consistently produce, I trick myself in a hundred little ways. I make it a game. I know my propensity for procrastination, but I don’t try to stop procrastinating–that’s impossible, and sets up a bound-to-fail diet mentality. Instead, I make the game all about rewarding myself for steady increments of work. I try to outwit myself. A certain amount of dragging my feet is necessary creative fuel, a sort of counterweight to my urge to go full speed ahead until I turn into a flaming wreck. Also, I enjoy the challenge of finding little ways to hoodwink myself, kind of like only focusing on the next three minutes on the treadmill. Each three-minute chunk adds up, and before I realize it I’ve run five miles.

So, give yourself teensy rewards. It really is all about tricking yourself into consistency.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve lingered long enough. I promised myself that if I could get this post written, I’d have earned a square of choco before I dive back into the copyedits. (See what I did there? SEE?)

Good luck, kids. Over and out.

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

Powells Pwnage, May ’11 Edition

Holy moly, was last night intense. As usual, Peter H. and Milo and the rest of the crew at Cedar Hills Crossing Powell’s made everything run smoothly, and the crowd was amazing! (Special thanks to my inimitable writing partner, who did the driving for me.) Ilona and Gordon were Fabulous with a capital Fab, and Dame Devon was, as usual, gracious, prepared, supportive, and just all-around fantastic. I was not arrested or thrown out. Everyone wins!

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, Lili, shut up and get to the damn pictures. Okay.

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How Many Drafts Would A Writer Draft…

Crossposted to the Deadline Dames, where there are more contests, writing advice, and pie than you can shake a stick at. Check us out!

Heaven’s Spite has been nominated for an award over at Fourth Day Universe. Go vote, if the spirit moves you. Also, there’s a giveaway for Defiance over at SmartPop. Big fun!

I’ve had to shift gears and do a last round of nitpicky revising on a book, as well as putting together a dedication, acknowledgements, a map of fictional countries, and a whole series bible so I can write the second in a duology without my head exploding. It used to be I kept all the details in my head, but with three books due before the end of the year I need that bandwidth for other things. Like remembering to feed and wash myself. Seriously, I’ll take care of everyone else in the house (even the cats) and somehow forget to brush my own teeth. It’s maddening.

This brings up something I wish a lot of aspiring writers would absorb: getting the manuscript accepted is NOT the end of your job. Oh, no. Even getting to the place where your editor says, “Okay, this is good, I’ll transmit it to production!” is not the end of the road. Not by a long shot, cupcake.

Let me give you an example. Let’s pick Reckoning, the upcoming final book of the Strange Angels series. Let’s count how many steps in the process I’ve gone through so far.

* Initial draft, about 68K words. Took me about six months, mostly because I had proof pages, copyedits, and other books due at the same time.

* Zero draft, another month and a half. Clocking in at about 72K; scenes added and other tweaks.

* Waiting for editorial letter. Editorial letter comes. Beat head against wall, give letter a week to stew, reopen it and decide it’s not that bad. First revision. Add another month.

* First revised draft, about 76K. Still needs some things, I can’t see where they are, I’m too close to the book.

* Wait for second editorial letter. Second editorial letter comes. Beat head against wall, give letter a week to stew, reopen it and decide it’s not that bad. Second revision.

* Second revised draft, about 78K. Still not right. Add a month and a half.

* Third revised draft, clocks in at 82K, add another month or two. By this point I have lost track of time and I HATE THIS BOOK.

* Fourth revised draft, done at white heat. Now we’re there. 88K words, and I am sick of each and every one of them. There may have been another editorial letter or a marked-up paper draft (always what I prefer) in there, I can’t remember. The fear and loathing boiling in my cerebellum won’t let me.

* Finally editor says “BACK AWAY FROM THE GODDAMN BOOK.” Only she says it very nicely as she works it free of my jaws, as if taking a dead toy out of a terrier’s mouth without exciting the little beast even more. She also is probably hoping I’ve had my shots, because that foam around my mouth is troubling.

* Wait while working on other books, anywhere from three to four months.

* Copyedits come. I would tell you more about the joy that is copyedits, but that’s (say it with me) another blog post. Anyway, this requires reading the whole book over again, looking at every single change the CE made, and letting the change go or scrawling STET. This takes time. This is the last moment I have for any large changes, since changes at the next stage–the proof pages–are time-consuming and expensive. I have to look at every. single. word. And every. single. change. If I want to stet a change, I need to have a good reason for doing so. If the copyeditor has tried to change my first-person colloquialisms to Exact Third-Person Grammar I need to catch it and stet it every time. This requires an entirely different set of mental muscles than writing OR revising.

* Send copyedits back to editor. Self-tranquilise in whatever fashion one can. No, I will NOT tell you what I did to ease the pain. (I would, maybe, but I can’t remember. The pain has given me amnesia.)

If one counts the copyedits as a draft, that’s five of them, with a significant increase in complexity and density in the story each time. (I tend to write very lean on the zero and first drafts anyway.) Normally I don’t have more than two drafts, but those two take just as much time as the four above. Then there’s copyedits for every book.

But I am not done. Oh, no, darling.

No, next will come the proof pages–where I receive a hardcopy of what the pages will look like in the actual book. I go through by hand, catch any stets that didn’t make it through production, look for dropped words, typos, etc. While I do that, a professional proofreader also looks over another copy, but they won’t be able to tell about the little fiddles and tweaks I want in this last stage. This takes a while, and then I send the hardcopy with my notations back to my editor. (For some reason, I cannot proof effectively in PDF. It just doesn’t work.) Plus there’s the dedication and acknowledgements to worry over, fights about whether or not the damn thing needs a glossary, appendices if applicable, and not a few nights of me laying in bed thinking that I could have done something, anything, about the book better.

Then it’s a wait of five months to a year until the book actually hits the shelves, during which I am hard at work on other projects in varying stages of completion. By the time an actual honest-to-goodness Reader gets to see the book, my traumatised brain is beginning to recover from the whole thing, and I’d much rather talk about the books I’m working on now.

My point (and yes, I do have one) is that very few aspiring authors take this part of the process into account. Very few of them actually think past the “IT GOT SOLD! I GOT THE SIGNING CHEQUE! WHEE!” part to the grinding slog of work you need to plan energy and time for after that particular high point. It ends up being an unpleasant surprise, and I’ve seen not a few new authors implode under the stress of the copyedit stage in particular. If you really, truly want to get a book published, you need to be prepared for this. Finishing a draft is the least of your milestones–albeit the one milestone that everything else in the process depends on.

Doesn’t that sound like joy? Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

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.

Ritual And Habit

Crossposted to the Deadline Dames. Check us out!

Also, the complete Dante Valentine omnibus is now officially released!

***

I think it was Flaubert who kept rotten apples in a desk drawer. He would open the drawer, lean over, and take a deep whiff to evoke autumn.

Everyone’s got their something.

Ritual and habit: the best of slaves, the worst of masters. The habit of sitting down and getting your hands on the keyboard can take you through when your discipline is faltering, but your habit of “needing” to catch a particular television show can interfere with your writing time. The habit of consistently saving and backing up your work can save your cookies, but the habit of surfing the Net during writing time can cut your productivity by an order of magnitude.

To little people, the world is a big and scary place, and rituals are comforting. To bigger people, social rituals–weddings, funerals, what have you–serve as social glue, give a framework for celebration, and provide closure. To practicing witches or occultists, ritual is a way to build a trigger allowing you to step into another psychic “space.” Human beings love rituals. We can’t get enough of them. Left to ourselves, we’ll make a ritual out of anything. Even the abstraction of writing.

There are two varieties of Things You Need To Learn To Have A Shot At Being A Working Writer–two species, if you will. I call them the two currents. One is the method of swimming against, the other is finding the best way to swim with. Ritual and habit help with both.

We’re very fond of swimming against. The idea that all we need is a little willpower and some hard work is a very intoxicating one with a lot of cultural weight behind it. The whole diet and self-help industries, for example, are largely built on the notion that if you just have enough willpower you can “fix” yourself. (That brings up a rant, but that’s–say it with me–another blog post.) The Puritans thought enough hard work and repression could fix just about anything, and we are heirs to that obsession. For some things it works very well, and for some short-term creative endeavours it’s a godsend. Sometimes, the sheer stubbornness of swimming against has taken me through several ticklish situations, especially that one memorable 48-hour revision stint. (I was unwashed and a very cranky cupcake afterward, let me tell you.) I have nothing against the swimming against. It’s just not the only way, and for a lot of things it’s not terribly efficient either.

Swimming with, on the other hand, is the process of taking one’s own laziness and habits and making them work for you. An essential part of a writer’s career is learning to manage one’s laziness in the most efficient way. Human beings like habit because it’s easy. The needle slips into the groove, we slide into the track, and a significant amount of effort vanishes. We can just follow the groove. The initial investment of making a habit is swimming against; the payback is when the habit has become a groove and we’re kept in it without much effort on our part.

This is why every writer needs a working knowledge of how to build a habit, what constitutes a ritual, and the borders of their own laziness. This working knowledge can’t just sit there, it has to work. In other words, the writer needs to do something with it.

Building a habit takes anywhere from four days to a month of doing the same thing, whether it’s smoking a cigarette at 10pm, peeing in the shower, reading for a half-hour before bed, or picking one’s nose. Or carrying a notebook everywhere, jotting down dialogue on your lunch break, eating the same pastrami on rye for twenty years, tapping the dashboard when you go through a yellow light, or knocking on wood. Rest assured, most of your day is made up of habits. Gurdjieff swore people live in a sort of waking sleep, robotic. He’s probably right, only I don’t think you have to work yourself to exhaustion to be granted a taste of consciousness. I think habits are a grand thing–I mean, I like that my heart has the habit of beating–and the gift we have is the ability to choose a few habits all on our own.

A ritual is a set of actions. (The actions may have a religious or social meaning, yes, let’s not get bogged down.) One of my rituals when I finish a very emotionally draining scene is to get up and walk around the room I’m in, clockwise. It leaves the scene in the story where it belongs, instead of it leaking agony inside my head. I often touch the statue of Ganesh on my writing desk when I’m about to start a new story. The plum tree in my back yard gets a cup of milk the first day I notice it’s bloomed. I read an edit letter once, then scream and stamp and throw it across the room; a week later I go back and find out it’s not really that bad. (That’s a ritual of processing, right there.)

To get your habits to work for you, first you have to figure out what habits you have. The easiest way to do this is to try to start a new habit. Do one thing at a specific time for four days in a row, and each time you do it, write it down. If this is hard to do, if you keep forgetting, take a look at what habit you might be inadvertently cutting across. Bingo, you’ve found one. Once you’ve practiced this process a few times, you’ll start spotting habits everywhere. You can’t change what you can’t see–spotting your habits is the first step.

Here’s a secret: it is much easier to replace a habit than it is to lose one. I call this the Addiction Theory of Self-Change, with varying degrees of tongue-in-cheek. I know several people who have substituted playing with a pen or pencil or chopstick or what-have-you at all times for smoking, which seems to work okay until stressors pile up. I myself have substituted working a heavy bag for self-injury for years. Currently I’m trying to substitute deep breathing for my obsessive email-checking. (We’ll see how that one works out.) If you can’t break a habit, work it around by degrees until you’ve replaced it with a better one.

Rituals are a little different. I always end my books with the same finis. I always sit and stare for a few moments after I’ve typed it, while the engine in my brain slips its traces and starts the rebound process. I always do the same things on a release day–no, I will not tell you what they are. When a well-loved book gives up its ghost and its pages, I give it a funeral and a proper burial. I have rituals that hedge in each day’s writing sessions, and each time I perform them I am reinforcing the little click inside my brain, the shift over to another mode of being. The rituals have changed as my writing space has changed–for example, when I was writing in the middle of the night in the bathroom while a boy slept in the bed my ritual was very different than the sitting down ritual I perform nowadays.

There are Speshul Snowflakes who use habit and ritual as excuses not to write. “I can’t write if I don’t have X!” they wail. Bullshit. Your habits and rituals are here to work for you, not the other way around. It’s not “I CAN’T write,” it’s “I WON’T write.” Fine, if you don’t want to, don’t. Be a Beethoven Blonde. It’s your life.

Swimming with is easier in that it takes advantage of one’s natural propensities instead of fighting them. The drawback is that it’s easy to slip under the surface of the habits you’ve created, and not take notice of changing conditions. Keeping the swimming in either direction balanced is a little tricky. You need the swim against to cut across the grain every once in a while and figure out if the current you’re surfing is really taking you where you want to go, or if you need to nudge it by a couple degrees and find a slightly-new groove to slip into.

And now that I’ve beaten that metaphor to death, it’s time for me to engage in the private ritual marking the beginning of yet another revision. (Two points if you guessed it involves a fair amount of swearing.)

Over and out.

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

Combat Scene: Zero Draft

Crossposted to the Deadline Dames, where there is even more advice, and giveaways too!

It’s Friday again. How on earth did that happen? Before we get started, here’s Philip Pullman: “Leave the libraries alone. You don’t understand their value.

There are a couple new-this-week interviews with me, one at Reading Awesome Books, and another over at CJ Redwine’s place, where I am interviewed by Captain Jack Sparrow. You can also enter to win a signed set of the first three Strange Angels books at CJ’s until Sunday.

It’s time for another in my ongoing series about writing combat scenes. So you’ve figured out why you want to beat the snot out of your characters, and you’ve got a grasp on the reason, stakes, and cost. Now it’s time to write the damn scene.

The bad news is, writing a combat scene is just like writing any other damn scene. It requires your ass in the chair and your hands on the keyboard. The not-so-bad news is that the key to combat scenes is revising; but in order to revise you must have a chunk of original text to tweak. The good news is that there are ways to make it easier, and if you’re reading this, chances are you’ve watched enough action movies to have some idea of how to visualize a good combat scene.

The usual disclaimers (every writer’s process is unique, some of this advice may not work for you, your mileage may vary, beverage you are about to enjoy is extremely hot) apply. Given that, here’s a few things that may help while you’re writing a combat scene.

* Research, research, research. I like research. Plus, it can save one from making embarrassing mistakes. Research can be: reading a forensic pathology study guide, or a guide on combat psychology and physiology; going to the range and taking some handgun classes to understand just what it feels and sounds like to fire a gun; swinging a dress-metal katana in your backyard as you work out a fight in your head; asking a hobbyist about their passion for stamps/kung fu/military history; interviewing a cop/firefighter/martial artist. Most people love to talk about themselves and their passions or their jobs. A writer can learn a lot by listening, and buying a few drinks. There’s also the Internet, which one can use as a research tool only if one applies a strenuous bullshit test to every piece of information found on it. You get the idea.

The danger with research is that you can mistake it for the actual work of writing. I’m a magpie for knowledge–my TBR stack is actually an overflowing bookcase, and I’m always on the lookout for new and interesting little facts and connections. I’ve fallen into the trap of getting so interested in a small research question for a book that I’ve lost a day or two to chasing down more and more about a subject, finally blinking and looking up and giving myself a good headsmack. Be open to serendipity, but give your research boundaries. And always, always, go about it safely. I do NOT recommend going out and getting into fights just to see if it’s true that they hurt. That’s stupid and dangerous. Please just take my word for it.

* Blocking. I found out about scene blocking in high school. I wasn’t in drama–I wasn’t pretty enough for the drama teacher to have as a protege–but I was an extra in a play or two, and the concept of blocking out a scene felt very natural to apply to combat scenes. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been out in the backyard (or in the field that used to be behind my house) swinging around a dress-metal katana or cracking a bullwhip at a pile of something, blocking out a fight in my head. Something about the physical movement gives the visual inside my skull pegs to hang on, and informs them with a great deal of immediacy for me.

If you are concerned about looking like an idiot while doing that, you’re just going to have to let go of that. I love ballet, but I had terrible anxiety in class until my teacher said, “Nobody is looking at you funny. Everyone else in here is worrying about their movements. I am watching, but even I can’t watch you all the time, and I’m watching you in order to teach you. So relax. Everyone else here is worrying about the size of their legs too.” By and large, nobody’s watching. If they are, well, you can just tell them you’re a writer.[1]

* Music. Music is a very integral part of my creative process. To get myself in the mood for a Kismet fight scene, for example, I would often listen to the Cure’s Wrong Number with my eyes closed, watching Jill clear a hellbreed hole. I play certain songs for certain scenes, and I spend a lot of my morning runs in what seems to be a trancelike state, the music accompanying scenes inside my head while my body’s occupied with running one mile after another.

* Sensory cues. Most fights are chaos. Tunnel vision happens when an average person gets adrenaline really going. These two things can make it difficult for a writer to tease out how to describe a combat scene. Blocking the scene out will help immeasurably, but once you have, get some detail on the page. Tell me how the blood tastes, that the punch to the gut huffed all your air out and brought your dinner up in an acid rush, that the sound of the damned screaming as bullets plowed through their unholy flesh was a chorus of glassine despair. Don’t worry that you’re giving too much–that’s what revision is for. Get as much sensory detail as you can into the fight scene so you can pick the best of it later. Here is where the ability to visualize is worth all the practice you can give it–and if you have trouble visualizing, find the sense you have the least trouble using. Some people are auditory writers, some are tactile; I’m very visual and olfactory. (Writing about death and decay sometimes makes me physically ill, since I smell what my characters do.)

Training yourself to go into a story like this strikes directly at the heart of what most of us are told when we’re kids–to stop daydreaming, to pay attention, to not space out. It’s a balance, like so much about this writing gig. Keen observation and paying attention are necessary (and they can’t hurt when you’re trying to cross a street or walking in a bad part of town); finding that little “click” and stepping into the hallucinatory space of daydreaming a story, that focused creative state, is necessary as well. You need both in order to do this well, so practice both; they will feed and inform each other in startling ways.

* Get in and get it done. I don’t leave the keyboard in the middle of a combat scene unless there’s an immediate physical emergency. Sex scenes, dramatic scenes, bridging scenes I can all walk away from, and sometimes I even let sex scenes marinate a couple days. (Again, YMMV.) But a combat scene depends on me sitting down, having it clear in my head, and getting out a chunk of text. Knowing the reason, stakes, and cost before I go into it helps.

These sessions are usually the ones that leave me soaked in sweat or shivering, adrenaline copper on my tongue and my body aching in sympathy for my hero/ine. These are also the scenes where the house could quite probably burn down around me and I might not notice unless I had to rescue children or cats. I am not quite deaf to the world during them, but it’s close. I like this, it’s one of the perks of writing as a career. But if I get up in the middle of it and go away, I lose steam and sometimes it’s hard to find the hook to get back into the fight. I get exhausted if I stop or slow down. (Or, God forbid, use the loo. Forget Kegels, writing combat scenes straight through is great practice for one’s perineum. Ah, the glamour of this career!) As an aside, this is related to my practice of not leaving the keyboard at the end of a scene or chapter. For some reason, I find it easier to regain momentum if I have even just a couple throwaway lines to begin the next chapter/scene before I walk away from the writing.

* Have fun. Fighting in real life is deadly serious. It is a last resort, not to be engaged in unless one or one’s loved one is in direct dire physical danger. But fighting in fiction is fun. Action movies are fun to watch. Writing a combat scene, especially one in which you can bend the laws of physics a little, is a blast. Yeah, there’s cost and stakes for your character, but you should be having a ball. Don’t forget Steven Brust‘s invaluable little sentence to tack up in your writing space: And now, I’m going to tell you something REALLY cool. You’re telling someone something really goddamn cool. Get into it. Have a ball, have a blast, have some fun. If you aren’t, it’ll be even more difficult for your reader to. You don’t ever want that.

Okay. So, those are things that help you squeeze out the zero draft of a combat scene. But your work isn’t finished yet. Not by a long shot. To really make a combat scene pop, there are specific ways to revise that lovely zero draft of that scene that made you go “ooooh!” We’ll go over those ways next week.

Class dismissed.

[1] I really think this saved me from getting arrested once. (Suffice to say I was blocking out a fight with a dress-metal katana and a cop noticed and bounced his car up into the field. Once I told him I wrote romance, he just laughed and told me to be careful.)

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

Questions, Questions

Crossposted to the Deadline Dames! There are giveaways and tons of other cool stuff. Check us out!

First, the news! The Jill Kismet series is spotlighted during January over at Barnes & Noble. And I am considering–only considering, mind you–how to turn the Squirrel!Terror chronicles into a paper book. (I have to look at what editing, formatting, and a cover would cost and decide if it’s worth the time investment.) I’ve also spent the last couple weeks talking with Audiobook People about pronunciations for the Valentine series. Tres exciting!

So this morning, I had no idea what I would do for a Friday post. I made the mistake oferm, had the bright thought of asking for questions on Twitter and Facebook. I only have time for two or three answers, so here goes:

* Steelflower and Cover Models. Many of you asked about Steelflower. I appreciate the interest, and there are two more Kaia books in my head. (One deals with Redfist’s homeland; the other deals with G’maihallan under siege.) The problem is, I am contracted pretty tightly for other things. Kaia is on the back burner for the time being.

Many of you also ask me about cover models, for example, the lovely lady featured on the Strange Angels covers. I am not the right person to ask, because I have about as much control over the covers as I do over the weather in Russia. The best way to get that question answered is to ask the publisher, they’ll be more than happy to help you out.

* ARCs. I get tons of requests for Advance Reader Copies. I hate to break it to you, but I don’t generally get ARCs of anything other than the very first in a series, and I normally only get two or three of those. When I do get copies of my books, it’s usually slightly after bookstores get them, or, more often, when bookstores put them on the shelf. I also, as a matter of policy, do not send out e-versions for review. (Blame the e-pirates for this. Seriously.) If you have a review blog, if you want a review copy, please contact the publisher of the series in question. Ask for their marketing department, explain that you’d like to get on the list for review copies, and see what happens.

* Broken stories. The most interesting question was from friend and Reader Monica V:

Might be neat to hear your take on whether or not a story can be “fixed.” I say sometimes? No.

Sometimes yes, sometimes no. It depends on where it’s broken. If it’s a question of the story being too thin to hold up the amount of wordcount you’re expecting, the fix can be turning it into a short, a novella, or a vignette rather than a novel. It can also be a signal that you need more conflict, or you need to discover the deeper conflicts and motivations that are already there.

If it’s a question of one writing oneself into a corner, then the fix is a little harder. If I hit one of these (and believe me, I have) I usually set the story aside, work on something else, and sleep on the problem. Usually, upon waking the next morning, I find my unconscious has been busily chewing over the whole thing and will either present me with a relatively elegant solution that takes into account little details I didn’t remember writing before (always fun) or a less-elegant solution that involves me getting rid of a chunk of text.

If the latter is called for (which is infrequent, thank goodness), here’s a tip: save the chunk you’ve lopped out in a separate file. I title mine “title of work BITS”, and stick it in the same folder with the master draft I’m working on. Sometimes that chunk is just in the wrong place because I got excited; sometimes, with a little alteration, it can be pressed into service elsewhere. Stick it in the graveyard and let it ferment, don’t totally erase it. (And don’t ask me how I learned that unless you’re prepared for a bitter, bitter rant. Heh.)

Of course, this presupposes that a story is truly “broken” instead of laziness or fear being the problem. How can you tell if a story is broken?

This is incredibly difficult, because you are too close to it to see it clearly. The only way to figure out when a story is broken is to have practice in finishing stories, so you can understand your process a little better. Practice will help you distinguish between a truly-broken story (one you cannot write because there is no fixing it) and a story you need to work around (characters without motivations, motivations that don’t make sense, plot holes, plot painted into a corner, characters behaving without rhyme or reason, the list is endless) to find the proper way of telling. Each story is unique, your process is unique, so you are going to have to practice to learn the art of distinguishing “broken”.

Generally, I try to rule out everything else before I decide a story is irretrievably gone. I tend to view a roadblock in a story as a case of user error instead of bad programming, so to speak. To use another analogy, I treat it as if the story is being broadcast, but my decoding of the transmission is off in some way that causes error or, more frustratingly, creep. Once I’ve ruled all that out, and once I’ve banged my head against the wall of the story enough, I’ll either ask for help from my trusty beta, or I’ll move on. There are stories I thought were broken, but when I come back to them on my periodic runs through the graveyard I’ll find out they were actually pretty okay, I just needed time/distance/a little more maturity to successfully deal with them.

Whew. That was a long, circuitous answer. It’s an interesting and difficult question, with many layers. (Like ogres. Or pie.) I’ll probably come back to it later and chew it over some more, but I’ve got to jet.

Tune in next week for talking about fight scenes! That was another question this morning, and one that deserves a whole post to itself…

Over and out.

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