A (small) Ramble On Synchronicity

The engine of synchronicity runs under the surface of my days. In order to feel the engine and see the connections, I have to be in a certain frame of mind. I can generally tell how OK I am by how well I can sense the engine running. Whether it only runs when I’m happy or I just don’t see it when I’m in the undertow is largely academic as far as I’m concerned.

So. I am reading Murakami. There’s a passage in Dance Dance Dance–Chapter 17, to be precise–where he talks about the phone, about connections, about the imperfection of communication. It resonated so strongly I set the book aside and sat thinking for a while, feeling the engine thrum under the surface of daily life.

I started reading Murakami because of a tragedy, and the first novel I picked–The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles–still resonates. I was climbing out of a well of my own when I read it; the tragedy was in a well of its own. For various reasons, it was gruesomely ironic that I started reading him at about that time. I can’t blame the author, but I think that has something to do with my liking the books.

The tragedy wasn’t mine, but it tore at me. My links under the surface of the world mean very little to anyone but me, but seeing them, the wheels and cogs sliding gently into place, meshing with the terrible convenience of coincidence–well, it’s important. Maybe I only see it when I’m happy because otherwise I couldn’t bear the tangled knots weaving everything and everyone I know together. I couldn’t bear to see the machinery going along with its own chaotic, fractal regularity and logic.

In any case, the world is sparkling with golden dust and thrumming with the knots and threads all bound together and pulling in their different directions. It’s marvelous to think that everyone I see is a node with their own net of knots and threads that sometimes touch mine briefly. Each touch is a fresh knot. If it’s a net, it’s one that keeps us from falling too far.

It’s good not to feel alone. The magic has come back. The tightrope act goes on.

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Huh. Is There Any Money In That?

Crossposted to the Deadline Dames.

First, an announcement. Readers AleBB and Amanda N., please email me and tell me which mug/shirt you want. I have your addresses, but not the exact prizes you want.

Also, if you check out the latest (March ‘10) Romantic Times, I’m in there with Nalini Singh, Anne Rice, and Debbie Macomber (not to mention some fellow Dames, I think). We’re all talking about angels and demons, and having a great time. Plus, there are some Dame books recommended in that article!’

Now. It’s Friday. I’m supposed to do a Friday post. But what I really want to do is get back to the book that’s been bugging me. It’s a bright sunny windy day, and the itching under my skin can only be a work of fiction dying to get out. So, it’s going to be a Friday Four! I’m going to answer four common questions I get asked when I tell people I write for a living.

Seriously. These are the things I get asked/said to me most often when I tell people what I do. Enjoy!

1. Huh. Is there any money in that?

I’m very lucky that I can support myself by writing, and I do it by being pretty careful what I spend money on. (I’m helped by the fact that my priorities do not seem to be the average person’s set of priorities.) When you’re only paid twice a year and expected to live on chunks of your advances for months at a time, you have to budget pretty carefully. Also, you need to build up a safety cushion for those times when the royalty or advance payments dry up. It happens.

So yeah, there’s money…but only because I’m careful.

2. So how long does it take you to write a book?

It depends on the type of book. There’s the brute work of typing 60-100K words (and quite possibly twice that amount if there are multiple drafts, endings, and revisions). There’s the research involved, which can add hours and hours (even if it is Internet-based, which I don’t recommend…but that’s another blog post). There’s the time between revisions/drafts to let it sit and cool down. Then there’s the emotional energy and time one invests into a book.

For example, the Watcher books were relatively painless to write. They were fun and I had the structure down after the second one, so it was a matter of relaxing into the structure. I could probably write one of those every couple months, if I wasn’t doing anything else. Contrast that with the Jill Kismet books, which take a lot out of me. I need a year for each Kismet book, period. This is partly because I have other projects going at the same time, but it’s mostly because Jill’s world is a very dark place and the emotional toll of entering that world and suffering with her, as well as feeling her triumphs, is very large.

Oddly, short stories sometimes take me longer than novels, because the word count is so limited–I have to have everything just right before I draw my sword and make my cut.

So, that’s actually a very complex question. There are books that took me three years to write, books that took me a month and a half of intense effort, books that sort of dumped themselves out of my head whole. Writing a book is an incredibly complex process, with all sorts of factors affecting it. So I usually say, “From a month to three years, it depends on the book.”

3. I always wanted to write a book. How do you get published?

Persistence. Sheer dumb brute persistence. And luck, but the harder you work, the more likely you are to be lucky.

There are many ways to climb the mountain to publication[1], as well as many ways to climb the mountain of a sustainable writing career. The bedrock all these ways rest on is not quitting and learning.

You do not have a guarantee of getting published. All you can do is maximize your chances. Plenty of people do not bother to maximize their chances and so, just clog up the pipes with slush. But I can tell you this much: if you quit, it’s CERTAIN that you will never get published. If you don’t keep producing work and submitting, of course you’ll never get there. It’s a question of whether or not this matters enough to you.

The other half of the answer is learning. I never open a finished book of mine without wincing at things I could have done better and feeling the urge to correct/revise. Never. Part of that is simply my work ethic; the other part is that I an consistently and constantly trying to learn more about language, grammar, what makes stories work, what makes writing work. I rarely read for pleasure anymore; instead, I’m “looking under the hood” and seeing how the story is put together while another part of me is searching for typos. It’s become a reflex by now.

If you aren’t wincing and thinking you could do better when you open up a story/document you wrote six months ago, it’s time to focus on some more learning. I sincerely believe this is not a finite process.

4. I’ve got this great idea for a book. Why don’t you write it and we’ll split it 50-50?

Writers sometimes joke about this, but it isn’t really a joke. People actually say this to me. The only thing that saves the top of my head from blowing off while steam shoots off my ears and I reach for something sharp is the fact that most people don’t have the faintest idea how much work it is to write a book. They know that they walk into a bookstore and see the finished product and it takes them ten minutes to buy it if the line’s super-long around Christmas.

They do not see the months or years it took to write that book, the different drafts, the revisions and proofing process, the waiting for publication schedules to line up…I could go on. It’s like people thinking a television commercial only takes thirty seconds to film because that’s how long the finished product ends up being.

I used to try to explain this to people, but two sentences into the explanation people’s eyes would glaze over. People largely don’t care to hear about how their conveniences or consumable entertainment actually comes into being. Listening to that is too much like work, and I suspect it drains some of the “magic” from the mental image people have of writers.

So now I just settle for taking a deep breath, reminding myself that dismemberment is frowned upon in most social situations, and say, “Sorry. I’ve got my own books to write.”

The funny thing about this is most people just nod and move on with the conversation. There is, however, a slight but definite proportion of people who are actually offended when I say that. I suspect they are some of the same people you read about here. I actually had one man say to me, “What, my ideas aren’t good enough for you?”[2]

*snorts* So here’s what I wish I could say: “It’s not that your ideas aren’t good enough. It’s that I’d rather spend my time on the line of my ideas that’s stretching out the door and around the block. Other ideas are free to wait in line, and I’ll get the money for the actual effort put into writing them, thank you very much. Next!”

Ideas are a dime a dozen. What makes a book special is the time, care, and effort the writer puts into expressing the idea and its consequences, the effort spent revising until it’s as good as it can be, the effort the publisher puts into it from their end, and the ongoing engagement the writer cultivates with the readers. Five seconds of “hey I have an idea!” isn’t worth much when stacked against those months or years of backbreaking effort.

Anyway. So there you have it, the four most-common questions I’m asked when I tell people I write for a living. Someday, just to shake things up, I’m going to tell someone that I shave gorillas for a living.

They’ll probably say, “Huh. Is there any money in that?”

[1] Note that when I say “publication” I mean traditional publishing with all its quality control. I do not mean self or vanity publishing.
[2]At that point I realized I was dealing with irrationality, and took refuge in absurdity. “Yes. My cake is burning, thank you.” And I walked away.

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Got Zombies, Be Back In A Bit…

Just a flyby post, since the last few days have been crazy. Next week will be better.

Tonight at 6:30PM (Pacific) I’ll be doing #askawriter on Twitter or about 20 minutes/half an hour. Come by and ask questions about writing/publishing. I will NOT answer questions such as “will you read my manuscript?” or “can you help me with my homework?” Other than that, fair game.

It’s a beautiful blue-sky day and I’ve some zombies to kill. Catch you later.

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Today Is My Valentine To Me

Yesterday’s OMSI trip was a blast despite the crowds. The youngest among us loved the room that shoots little blue balls everywhere, the middle crowd went gaga over the space exhibit, and us oldfolk had the most fun with the T. Rex skeleton. H. told me that there’s some thought that T. Rex was actually more of a scavenger than a predator, which I have to say makes some sense given their teensy arms. I leave it to the paleontologists to sort out, possibly with a caged deathmatch. SCIENCE FIGHT!

Ahem.

Today is the day I take myself on a Valentine date. *primps hair* I’ll report back on the Wolfman tomorrow.

Oh, also, yesterday I goofed. Fellow Razorbill author Suzanne Young is signing tonight out at Cedar Hills Crossing. The Princess loved her book, The Naughty List, and Suzanne is a ton of fun. If you can, go out and show some love! I don’t know if I’ll be able to get out there, but I’ll be there in spirit cheering her on.

Before I take myself on a date, however, I have to make a stab at a short story. 5K, five scenes 1K apiece. This is going to have to be careful, delicate surgery, my dears, requiring gallons of caffeine and lots of staring into the distance, turning the story over inside my head before I draw and make my cut.

Wish me luck.

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Kaleidoscope Weekend

Spin me right round, baby right round

I’ve gone from being barely able to run for two whole minutes without gasping and feeling like I was being tortured…to running for almost an hour at double the pace relatively easily. I’m glad I’ve looked back at the original contract I made with myself to exercise, because it reminds me of how far I’ve come in baby steps. Breaking up a goal into bite-size chunks and methodically working through those chunks isn’t glamorous, but you do eventually get to a place where you look around ad realize, holy crap I’m doing X when before I could barely do Y! It’s a great feeling.

I won’t be signing up for any marathons soon. For right now it’s enough that I know I can do these things, and feel the effects in my much-smaller-now body.

Anyway, today is President’s Day and the kids are home from school. We’re heading out to OMSI with our friend H. and her son. Another great thing about fighting my way back from the abyss–I have energy to do cool things now! I am fun again! *rolls eyes at self* But really, that’s how I feel. Like I’ve plugged back into the socket that is my awesomeness.

Tomorrow night, my awesome fellow Razorbill author Suzanne Young is signing out at Cedar Hills Crossing. The Princess loved her book, The Naughty List, and Suzanne is a ton of fun. If you can, go out and show some love! I don’t know if I’ll get out there, but I’ll be there in spirit cheering her on.

Oh, and my Valentine’s Day date-with-myself has been moved to Tuesday. It just worked out better that way. I’m going to go see The Wolfman. Yeah, it might suck. My expectations are pretty low, I’m just going for the escape, the costumes, and Benecio Del Toro’s lips. (The man pouts like Mae West and I LOVE IT.) Plus I’m going to buy myself popcorn, because I am a Good Date.

I can also say that I’ve finished the latest round of revisions on Heaven’s Spite and am flipping back to Dru 4 and a short story. No rest for the wicked, and I’m getting to like it that way. So I must bid you a civil adieu. Regular blogging will resume tomorrow.

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If You Need Permission, Babe, You’ve Got It

Crossposted to the Deadline Dames.

It’s Friday again! Which means, time for another Friday writing post. I suggest you click back a day and read Dame Toni’s most excellent Brain Frozen, Need Help! Because she says it better than I could.

Today I’m resurrecting a Golden Oldie from my blog vaults. This post went up in July of ‘07, and is taken from an actual email I wrote to an actual young writer’s desperate call for help. I think it’s held up pretty well, in conjunction with my other advice to young writers. So, without further ado, here’s something I wrote pretty much two years ago and reread this morning. It fired me up all over again. Oh, and please note: there are four-letter words ahead. If that bothers you, stop now.

Read the rest of this entry »

Sea Change

I rolled out of bed this morning feeling actually happy.

Not just like I could stand another day, not just getting up because I had to, not just like the only thing bringing me to consciousness was the alarm and the idea that soon there would be coffee replacing my blood pint by pint. No, this morning I got up and I didn’t feel like I had to force myself to paste on a chilling little half-smile in order to face the world.

I’m still wearing the half-smile. It’s facial armor, just like eyeliner. And oh my God am I happy for the coffee. As well as utterly weirded out by this sea change.

I don’t think I’ve ever rolled out of bed willingly. I’ve done it because I had to and because people were depending on me. Today I was actually a little excited to get up and see what was going to happen. I felt like things were OK-going-on-good and getting better.

This is such a huge step for me, I’m tempted to go back to bed and think it over. (Just kidding. I’m so funny.)

Anyway, I’ve decided I’m not going to over-analyze or look for holes in this feeling. I’m going to take it as a base to build my day on. I’m cautiously optimistic that the happy will stay at least until lunch. If it stays longer, great. I intend to be a good hostess for this guest, so that we can become bestest friends. I like the idea of feeling happy more often than not.

My life has changed so much in the last six months. It’s incredible. And this is the first intimation I have that the change might stick and become permanent, that I’m not going to slide back down into the hole. There were days when it was enough not to drown. Now I’ve built myself back up from rubble and it’s enough to feel pretty OK when the alarm goes off.

I like this. I think I’ll keep it.

Of course, there’s still those revisions. They were kicking my ass yesterday, but I outwaited and outplayed them, managing to get another 2K of fresh plot thread woven in. From here it’s a gallop to the finish line, and I’m going to make it on time.

Here’s hoping your day has a little happiness too, dear Reader. Over and out.

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