Small Graces

I literally have not stopped running since I climbed out of bed this morning. I even braved the post office, picking up a package–now there was an inspiring moment. Everyone was quiet, calm, smiling, and well-behaved. Considering that most trips to the post office during the holiday season are brutal survival-of-the-fittest scrums, I felt lucky to witness a half hour of strangers standing in line and making small talk, grinning at the antics of a small child, and actively helping other people out.

Today is for beating on a zero draft to finish getting it in respectable shape. I already know two major changes I have to make, but they were things I suspected would end up changing when I wrote them, so I’m not stressed. The most difficult part of this is saying goodbye to characters that have occupied my headspace for multiple years now. That part is never easy, especially when one suspects one could have told their story better, if one had just known.

Anyway, I finally managed to eat something and get some more coffee down, and now I have a whole afternoon to spend in the laborious process of revising and bidding farewell. I probably won’t cry until I get closer to the end.

Oh, who am I kidding? I’m going to be a leaky spigot. Fetch me the Kleenex and pay no attention to the sobbing. This is still the greatest job in the world.

Over and out.

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On Rereading

Crossposted to the Deadline Dames. Check us out!

Here’s one thing about the life of a working writer: there is nothing quite like rereading five books in one of your series so you can make the sixth and final a reasonable first draft, tucking in all loose ends and making sure all things you want to resolve are nice and square, and the things you don’t want to resolve are done well.

For me, it’s kind of a Purgatory. It’s not quite hell, but it’s not comfy either.

I am not generally fond of rereading my own stuff. For one thing, after revisions, copyedits, proof pages, and reviews, sometimes I just get exhausted with a book. For another, writers are inveterate fiddlers. If not for deadlines we would continue polishing things forever. (Or maybe that’s just me.) I’m always seeing things that could be better, or catching little things I want to fix but can’t. It upsets me.

There’s the fact that while reading the book, I re-experience the emotional cost of writing it. I remember where I was when I wrote certain passages, what I was thinking about, what was happening around me. This particular series holds books that I wrote under acid-test conditions (to put it kindly) and remembering how I crawled into the story as a sharp-edged refuge is…well, a little difficult. Not only that, but I re-experience the characters’ emotional cost. Yes, I’m terrifically hard on my characters (no risk, no reward, remember,) but I suffer right along with them. Their hard-won victories make me feel good, the prices they pay for those victories are to some extent paid by me. (Though I am not, by any stretch of the imagination, my characters, thanks.)

Add to that the fact that I’m saying goodbye to a character I’ve literally bled with, and no wonder I’m wanting to take this easy. I make notes on my trusty legal pad, I fold down pages in my working copies (I keep one copy of every book to write notes in or check when I need to) I do my best to read critically, even though I’m still too close to the work to see everything. And I think about what the series has meant to me, if I pulled off what I meant to, if I didn’t punk out.

There are good things, too. I sometimes (not frequently enough, alas) run across passages I like. I usually don’t remember writing them, there are occasionally chunks where I hit the sweet spot and the words came through me without any interference. And every once in a while I am surprised into a laugh when a character makes a comment. (If one can’t find one’s own books occasionally funny, well…)

So I’m in a very reflective mood this Friday. I am bracing myself for the plunge through the fifth book this weekend; in many respects, the next-to-last book is the hardest to write, and this was no exception. Plus, I was incredibly stressed while I wrote it, and I don’t want to revisit that time. It’s still too raw. Too bad. Got a deadline. Gotta make it.

If you’re contemplating life as a working writer, just be prepared for the fact that the books don’t go away even after they’re published. They hang on your shell like barnacles, and sometimes you do have to scrape or feed them, or arrange them in different patterns, or just get them out and look at them. Wince at their imperfections, but try to be gentle with them and with yourself. Each book that makes it to the finish line is a victory; each book that makes it through the publication process is a double victory. To look back and say I could have done that better, yeah shows a certain amount of growth. That growth is a good thing, even if uncomfortable. Try to be gentle with yourself, and give yourself some credit for enduring, if nothing else.

I’m going to try to take my own advice on this. I’ll let you know how it turns out.

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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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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!

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

Heaven’s Spite Teaser

I know I promised another in the ongoing series about my writing process, but the Deadline Dames are running a snippet extravaganza this week! So, I’ll be writing more about process next Friday.

Today, you’re going to get a peek at an upcoming book. I went back and forth for a long time wondering which book I should excerpt here. Generally I don’t give excerpts, because I don’t like spoiling books. I prefer to have the story whole, laid out in front of the reader in its complete form as much as possible. Plus, I feel very strongly that each event in a novel, each scene, each piece of dialogue, is integral to every other piece. Taking one out is akin to playing a very dangerous game of Jenga and risking a collapse of the work as a whole.

I take these things too seriously. But then, that’s my job. Anyway.

Read the rest of this entry »

Process, Part I

Crossposted to the Deadline Dames. Check us out!

I’ve finished somewhere in the neighborhood of thirty books. A good proportion of those are on the shelves. Yet, every time I sit down to write, it’s still a struggle. I still have the long shoal of “nobody will like this, it’s going to be shit, everyone will hate me” and the “Oh GOD why won’t this BOOK just DIE stabstabstab” and the terrible nerves before every release and the same jolt of pain when I read an awful review. I keep thinking time will mute the sting or that I’ll figure out how to do this whole thing without the emotional cost, but so far, I haven’t.

I wonder if any writer ever does. Certainly none of the ones I’ve spoken to have ever admitted it to me.

The last Kismet book has been a slog so far. It broke free this week, and I have the sense of accumulating momentum which means I am going to finish, which I’d spent some terrible hours laying in bed in the dead of night doubting. During the day I’m much too busy to doubt, but sometimes at night…well, the night always has teeth. Every single book I’ve finished, published or not, I have doubted it. I doubted when I started, I doubted after the first flush of enthusiasm wore off and the slog set in, I doubted when I finished, I doubted while my agent read it, I doubted while the editors read it, I doubted through every fucking revision and I doubt now.

This is a huge part of the reason why, when I am asked to give advice, I begin and end with write every day.

I point out things like John Scalzi’s excellent Writing: Find The Time, Or Don’t of Suzanne Johnson’s Excuses, Excuses: Writer’s Block because I think they are good advice. Often, I am depressingly unsurprised at the number of comments such essays receive along the lines of, “But what about XYZ, which means some people don’t have TIME? You’re being unfaaaaair!” Or the ever-popular comment where someone takes what could be a good respectable daily wordcount and wastes it whining about how they don’t have time to write, but they have time to show the author of an essay the Error Of Their Ways. Or the “of course YOU have time to write, it’s your JOB!” I wish someone would have told me that when I was desperately working my ass off and going to school, writing in minute chunks filched from job, study, and sleep. It would have been nice to know that was optional instead of the struggle for survival I mistook it for.

I write every day because I must. (And partly because I’m afraid of what would happen to my brain if I didn’t.) The everyday habit gave me the stamina to get through my first finished book, and my second, and every other of the thirty-odd and counting. But it also did something incredibly important: it taught me about my process.

My process shares some commonalities with other writers’ processes, while being unique as every writer’s is. But at least I know what it is, now. It was a damn sight harder to finish a book when I couldn’t look at the other ones I’d finished and say, oh yeah, I remember this part where I think it fucking sucks and nobody will ever want it and I feel like crying. Yeah. I remember–this isn’t the end of the world–it’s a stage in the process. I’ll get over it. Those first few books were literally murder. The first time I finished a book and had a week of emotional wind-down I thought I was going insane. The second, I’d forgotten all about the first–but by the third, I was starting to grasp the fact that there was an emotional cost to what I was doing, and I needed time to deal with the snapback. Which means today, I can schedule in time for the snapback to occur, and let it happen.

Just like I can tell myself, of course you feel like you want to quit. You always do at this part of the process. Keep going.

I am a firm believer in the truism that one doesn’t know how to write a novel, one can only guess how to get through the novel one’s writing now. Each one’s different. But thankfully, the process will begin to be clear to you, and that process tends to change much more slowly than the novels do. Your own general process for successfully finishing a novel (or a short story, an essay, a poem, what have you) is something you can plan for, anticipate, fine-tune, and generally learn how to work your way around.

But you can’t do that anticipating if you don’t know your process, you cannot know your process if you don’t finish anything, and you stand a much better chance of finishing something if you write every day. I say every day, knowing full well that for experienced writers there may be days off, when the mental work of building the story is happening but not much occurs with the fingers on the keyboard. I say every day, knowing full well that I could be wishy-washy and say “regularly” and hopefully avoid some of the “but I CAN’T!” that seems to pop up in the comments of posts like this. I say “every day” even though I know as soon as I say it, someone will pipe up with “but my process is different and I’m published!” and that’s OK. I say “every day” even though I know, my God do I know, Life Happens, things happen, and you may be called away from writing by an emergency.

I say this because if one says, “Write regularly” you can write once every six months and consider that “regularly” and you might die of old age before you get close to producing publishable work. I say it because I consider it to be the reason why my career is as (moderately) successful as it is. I say it because I consider that discipline crucial if you want to write for a living. I say it because I can have the rule of “write every day” and have occasional Emergencies that I am flexible enough to accommodate, but the needle of habit, discipline, and need gets me back up on the horse as soon as possible after the dust has cleared. Telling myself “write every day” is a foundation that makes it possible for me to even recognize I have a process.

Next week I’m going to talk a little more nuts and bolts about my particular process. But I want it to be absolutely clear that I consider the commitment to everyday writing as a precondition to recognizing one has a process early enough for it to do any bloody good. I firmly and fervently believe that writing every day gives you the chance to find your process before you get frustrated and decide you’d rather do something else with your time. Which is fine and well and good if that’s what you choose, but if I can point out a stumbling block and what I think is the best way around it, well, I will.

So. That’s out of the way. Next week, we’ll get nitty-gritty about just what my process entails.

Over and out.

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Oh, Smiley

Cranky, cold, and nauseated. Yep, it must be Monday.

The only update I have to offer on the ongoing SquirrelTerror is that Squirrel!Neo appears to have won whatever struggle for dominance there was. The backyard is now his territory. Even Tuxedo Kitty and the Siamese from down the street (they observe a studied ignorance of each other that reminds me of some married couples) will not venture into the yard while Neo is hopping about. He came right up to the sunroom door while I was running this morning, put his little paws on the glass, and turned his head sideways, fixing me with one beady little eye.

I’m really hoping he’s not going to hack into the house thinking it’s the mainframe.

And really, I don’t blame the cats. He’s a squirrel with kung fu, for Chrissake.

Anyway, links!

* A hilarious little piece on dating writers. My favorite is #6. Why? Oh, no reason…

* Mental Floss with 10 ways to learn stuff while procrastinating online. Don’t look at me like that. We know who we are.

* John Scalzi. Writing: Find The Time Or Don’t. I could go off on a rant but instead I’ll just point and say: there. What he said. WHAT HE SAID. Writers write. It’s that bloody simple.

I’ve been reading a lot of le Carre lately, and I have to say, I’m pretty much in love with George Smiley. Round, retiring, expensively but badly dressed, academic, bumbling, and very moist, still, Smiley is my type of guy. Plus, every le Carre novel rips your heart out in one way or another, and I’ve finally got to the place where I can enjoy that in fiction again. Thank goodness.

Well, off I go to nurse what I suspect will turn out to be a cold. Plus, the next scene is burning up inside my head and I have to get it out or I’ll start shuffling around, mumbling, and occasionally laughing at nothing…

…oh, damn. Too late.

Over and out.

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Three Things Thursday

I have very little to say for myself, being occupied in sorting out the tangle that Angel Town wants to turn into. So, three random things on a Thursday:

* Note to self: don’t ever buy cheap Q-tips again. You will regret it for MONTHS. It’s worth a couple extra cents to get the cottony goodness. Apparently Q-tips will be joining the short list of Things I Try Not To Skimp On, which also includes toilet tissue, coffee, and enrichment materials for the kids.

* I am at the stage where I just have to keep repeating, “You always feel the book is total crap at this point. Work through it. Put your head down and go through. You can’t fix what you don’t write.” Of course, the signs that I’m at this stage include staring blankly at the monitor, a sudden overwhelming urge to do housework, frequent rounds of whispered cursing, the urge to listen to the book’s soundtrack over and over while I’m running, and the frequent despairing thought that perhaps I should change careers. Go back to school and be a plumber or a paralegal or something. That thunking sound you hear is me hitting the desk with my head. Repeatedly.

* Our cats have gone insane. It’s like they’ve never seen rain or squirrels before, though this is impossible because they’ve lived in the Pacific Northwest all their lives. I can only surmise that they are two-marble beasts–they can only hold two marbles in their head at once. For example, the locations of the food bowl and litterboxes. If you try to shove something else in–like the idea that there is, yes, a screen that is ALWAYS pulled to at the sunroom door, or that windows are solid–one other marble, say the location of the food dish, will fall out, and crazed leaping and OMGWTFBBQLLAMA will occur. Therefore, the only marbles EVER in their furry little heads heads are the food bowl and the litterboxes, and anything else is a perpetual surprise.

I consider this an exciting, if terribly nervous, way to live. And I know I shouldn’t laugh at them, but I can’t help it.

Anyway. I’m going back to slugging away at Angel Town. One of the cats is perched in the window right now, staring at a squirrel in the front yard and making that throaty little oh please oh please sound in the back of his throat. He’s going to leap in a few minutes, hit the glass, slide down, then give me a filthy look as if I’m to blame.

Of course, I will be laughing too hard to care.

Peace out.

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