2015 in review

My friend and colleague Allie Drennan wrote up a post like this, and it got me to thinking. A lot of people have been talking about the year 2015 in qualitative ways, and for me… well, 2015 was nothing if not full of extremes.

The beginning of the year was grim, with me missing out on our family’s vacation in Whistler, BC. Being home alone for a week offered me a chance to write, but it also left me bumping around a house that had no laughing child and no smiling husband. The only good thing was my story “The Gaijin & The Butterfly” was published by Oriental Excess.

Later, in March, I got to go to Norwescon and take the panels seriously. Three fourths of my writers group were there with me, and we were organized. One of my writers group, James, even introduced me to an excellent writing opportunity. I was flying high and feeling invincible.

So, when I lost my job in April, you can imagine my surprise. I wandered in the weeds as I tried to find a job, only to be roundly neglected by everyone I applied with. Finally, it came down to a harsh truth. I had capped out on what I could do on paper, and if I ever wanted to get out of call centers, I was going to have to go back to school.

I published my book Bento Box in all of this excitement, and tried to learn more about the marketing side of writing. I wrote a short story, “Bits & Pieces,” and it was published by Luna Station.

I then took my planned trip to Wyoming. When I came back home, it was a matter of days before both Toby and I went to school.

School hit me like a load of bricks. I was a good student, but I wasn’t anticipating the amount of work it would be to do school. I fell behind in my classes a little and struggled to catch up. The last time I was in school, I didn’t have as many responsibilities as I have now. I still managed to churn out thirteen short stories over the course of the year. One is submitted to a contest, one is submitted to an anthology, and the rest are in stages of doneness before I figure out where to submit them.

A little ray of sunshine hit after I registered for winter quarter. Turns out, I had more credits from going to college as a high school senior than I thought I did. It was a bright spot in a month full of flooding and replacing our floors.

I passed my classes, which is probably better than I deserved after floundering as hard as I did. I learned a lot though, some directly from my classes and more indirectly.

The most important thing that I learned from 2015 is that I got comfortable. I stopped striving. I didn’t push my body; I didn’t push my mind. I just accepted that life was going to be as it was, and I was okay with that. As soon as I got to that point of acceptance, life turned a huge corner and my life shook down to its foundations. Now that I am striving for something again, things are going in the right direction, and while it’s hard, it’s good.

I also learned that if you have a small, dedicated group of people on your side, working towards similar goals and willing to trade help for help, you can get so much farther in life than trying to go it on your own. Support is vital to success, and the more support you have, the better off you are.

I learned a hard lesson this year. I also had Allie, who has been with me through this whole rough year, cheering me on and keeping me focused on the prize. We’ve been friends for over a decade but our friendship was strengthened this year quite a bit. We have plans to publish more stories, and to get our names out there. It’s good to have a shared dream; no one motivates you more than the person who is just as invested as you in the goal.

And now, on to 2016, and the challenges that await.

Writing Comes from Within. Like the Spleen.

Writing is a superpower. It’s a tricky superpower, though. There are tons of people who can write. There are significantly less people who want to write. There are even fewer people who will write.

I’m a writer, so naturally I think that everyone is. It has taken me years to accept that what seems effortless to me doesn’t to others. And to tell the truth, it’s not effortless for me, either.              

The truth is, everyone is inundated with great ideas for stories. A thought strikes them, and they ponder it for a moment before moving on.

Or, if you’re like me, you get caught up in the thoughts and suddenly find yourself hip deep in scattered chapters.

Editing, on the other hand, is the (one might say joyless) task of creating order out of chaos. Of realizing that your main character wakes up in a new time and shrugs it off effortlessly, when it should be at least a momentary concern. Or that your villain is the most boring character in the story. It’s finding the weakness and weeding it out. It’s criticism. It’s killing your (ideological) children. Editing is hell.

Now I run into the dilemma of being hip deep in my first professional editing session, and looking at my Ideas folder. It’s the shiny place where I record all of my infant ideas. The ideas gleam like gold, beckoning me away from the doldrums of deciding whether or not I can save the damsel in a way that will make sense to my readers.

I am choosing virtue. Partially because I’m paying for it, but also because I want this novel to be so much more than my first novel was. I want to show growth, and build an audience that can see there’s improvement, and want to know more.

The writing in me is so purely chaotic, so unrefined, so beautiful, it’s hard to exert this discipline. I’m not a patient person, and the winnowing out of ideas and refining of sentences is anathema to my previous way of writing.

However, my previous way of writing never got me published, either. So, at least for now, I’m going to rein in my imagination and keep on the harder path.

The Deep End

I didn’t see the momentum building until the avalanche was upon me. I hardly wrote a word for the longest time, then in one year I wrote more than I’ve ever imagined I could. It all started with two phone calls – one from Heather G. in January, one from Christopher E. in March.

I spent so much of last year trying to learn everything about the writing process.. not the process of writing, which is relatively straightforward and involves you, a computer, and some serious creative time. The writing process includes such things as building an audience with a blog, setting up a Facebook page, getting a Twitter account, figuring out Good Reads and Amazon author pages, and a bewildering set of other things I haven’t ever heard of before.

I’ve done writing, editing, taken classes on editing and marketing, made friends with other up and coming authors who will certainly be more successful than I. I find myself in conflict. Marketing, as far as I’m concerned, is a damned dirty word. On the other hand, how else are you going to tell people, “Oh, by the way, I wrote this book and I think you’ll love it!”

I need to overcome my deep-seated distrust of marketing if I’m ever going to be successful as a writer. At first, it wasn’t about the money, but now it’s changing. It is about the money. Not for its own sake, however. Just as a means to make my living doing what I love. I want being an author to be my job. I want it to pay my bills. If I’m going to do that, I’m going to have to spend this year learning the part of my job that separates the authors from the writers.

I guess it’s true what they say. Pimpin’ ain’t easy.

Spoiled for Choice

Recently, I was looking for a story amidst all my story folders, and I couldn’t find what I was looking for. There are volumes of folders now, a strong majority of them dated 2012. I said something out of frustration, and my husband gave me an indulgent smile. “Yes, it’s because you’re writing.” He sounded quite proud.

Not long after that, I went to tell my son a bedtime story, and within two or three sentences, he interrupted me. “Oh, I know this one.” When I was finished with the story, I asked him what he thought of it. “Oh, Mom, it’s not nearly long enough. There needs to be more!” He demanded.

I asked a woman who reviewed me on Goodreads.com to add the review to Amazon as well. She told me she would be happy to. When I asked her, I felt presumptuous, but she was so sweet and amiable I realized it wasn’t a problem at all. She told me that she was a fellow writer who hoped to be published someday. She also mentioned she might ask me for help when she got to that point. I found I truly wanted to help her out, to support her on such an exciting journey.

I am a beta reader for three  writers, a sounding board for a fourth.  If I had the wherewithal to organize a writer’s group, I could easily get some Avengers to assemble. I’ve been organizing groups since I was 16, and gamers and writers tend to overlap heavily. My drawback is that I simply don’t have the time to dedicate on a weekly basis. Rather than try to add another week’s worth of work into an already busy schedule, I make do with the structures I’ve cobbled together.

There is so much material that I’ve stored up over the years, I don’t know what to do next. I will be editing my second novel; my editor projects a 6 month turn around for this process. I’m trying to make headway on the fairy tales. That has proven easier because the chapters are short stories, rather than a full novel.

Currently, there are two vampire novels in the works, one present day, one set in the Roarin’ 20’s. I have a series for my science fiction world, probably 5 books minimum. It is doubtful that I will ever catch up to myself, because new ideas seem to sprout up every day.

While sending my artist and story director a copy of a newly finished fairy tale, I found one I hadn’t shown her yet. I opened it and read the older story, and it was a travesty. It was probably six months old, but between then and now, I have made extraordinary leaps of growth. Not because I’m extraordinary, but because I’ve been doing nothing but writing every day. I sent it to her with trepidation, but the story is solid enough to stand. It’s just the ‘wrapping paper’ that needs changing.

There was a time when I thought that I would never write again. That I was not capable of finishing a work, that I would always be a dabbler and never be a professional. To think I could have missed this makes me shudder.

Especially now, when I ask myself, “What do I want to write today,” and find that I am spoiled for choice.

Echo Chamber

Creating a novel is a solitary process.. at first.

There is no way around it, writing can only be done without distraction. When I was young, it was as easy as going to my room or finding a tree to curl up under. With the invention of the Internet, finding a place without distraction is much harder. The laptop that avails a word processing program also holds a window into never-ending entertainment, like Vegas on a bender. Worse, if you’re fact-checking (and in this day and age, if you want to keep your audience, you’re fact-checking) you must have that window to the Internet.

(And of course there is the occasional blog post..)

Once writing gets to a certain point, however, leaving it all to oneself is a bad plan. We are blind to our own writing styles, our inconsistencies, our plot holes that one could drive an ice cream truck through. We are in an echo chamber, and the only thing that can help is the feedback of an audience.

Finding that audience is probably the cause of death of more could-be novels than any other single thing. Certainly, there are editors that you can pay, and that is a service a professional author should indulge in, but before you’re ready to commit your hard earned dollars to your work, sometimes a little less formal showing is in order. This is where the difficulty comes in – I have been blessed with a lot of friends who say they are willing to read my work. On the other hand, when it comes to the rubber hits the road, those same friends who said they were interested dissolve under the weight of their previous engagements.

A good middle ground is the writer’s group. This is a trade service, with each aspiring author getting their moment in the sun, while also getting an opportunity to brush up on their editing skills by working with unfamiliar work.

The important thing is to make sure that you get feedback, and more importantly, take feedback. Confidence in your art is a must to get it produced, but without feedback, a work could miss its true potential.

No Rest for the Wicked

I am writing my second novel.

In an interesting twist of coincidence, I started both The Corsican and my untitled second work within months of each other, back in 2009. I don’t have specific dates anymore, but I know I started the second story after The Corsican, for NanoWrimo. (For the uninitiated, NanoWrimo is National Novel Writing Month.) I burned through the first draft, until I hit the climax, and then I stopped and thought, “Not so much.”

I have attempted this story more times than I care to admit. Always something changed. Characters developed, aged from high schoolers to twenty-somethings, main characters became supporting cast as more appropriate characters stepped forward, all the time tweaking the story to improve it. As is typical with these kinds of things, it took an outside perspective to put me on the path to correcting what it was that I just wasn’t happy with. The climax of the story, which was always my breaking point before, came easily this time around.

After three years of battling it, the story is flowing. Despite the amount of work I’m still doing for The Corsican, despite having all the other stuff I have to do, I can still sit down and churn out two thousand words in a day. This is just the first draft, though. Once I conclude it, there’s still acres of work that require doing. Editing, rewrites, polishing.

I can’t say this book has been easier to write because I published The Corsican. However, what I can say is that publishing The Corsican let me behind the curtain, to see what happens once the final ‘i’ is dotted and the final ‘t’ is crossed. Publishing has helped me to develop my process. I’ve gained confidence and trust my instincts as a writer. This draft has been easier to write, partially because I’ve become very clear on the characters over the years, partially because my husband is a genius and pointed out the book’s major flaw, and partially because I’ve learned from finishing my first book. It turns out, the best way to have a process for finishing books is to finish a book. The first one is the hardest, but after that you have a course of action.

I won’t be posting about writing a book in a linear fashion on this blog. I have many projects in various levels of completion, and I will share my insights as they come, from whichever project is providing me insight at the time. I welcome questions, and I will try to be clear on which project I mean, for clarity’s sake.

The world is full of stories. I’m glad that I’ve been able to add to the collective.

Juggling Act

I’m almost through editing proofs for my novel to be made available in paper to the public. I’m super excited about this. I have people waiting in line for the damn thing. I had no idea what to expect, being new at this, but man, I am past ready to get those books out.

I’ve also learned a whole lot about what’s expected of an author. No one really tells you this when you start out, but when you are an author, you are a manufacturer of a product. Eventually, if you’re lucky, you have many products, but when you’re brand new, you have one item, and that’s what you make and sell. You have to sell the books in order to make money. Even if you aren’t in writing to make money, you want people to read your work, otherwise you’d be content to let your words languish in your hard drive.

It’s important to note that while all this is going on, I am also writing my second book. I am having title gridlock and have renamed the beast five times now, so I am not going to share my current title yet. I want to wait until I get a beta reader to brainstorm titles with me. I will say that it’s an Urban Fantasy, based out of Seattle, but not always in Seattle. I’m interested to see if I get better sales with Urban Fantasy than I do with Sci-Fi. I hope so, because Urban Fantasy is my favorite genre personally. On the other hand, I have about five books outlined in The Corsican’s world, whereas this current book is sort of a stand alone story.

I never used to consider these things. For better or for worse, I’m aiming to become an author, making her living off of her wordsmithing. I am driven to getting my career off the ground, and I’m enjoying the hell out of the ride.