Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Done With the Draft

I finished the draft yesterday. There are still a few scenes to write, but I’m in the wrapping up phase after the main plot ends, which is where the character and emotional arcs are resolved, and the character and emotional arcs are what I want to focus on in the next draft, so I’m not sure yet how they’ll be resolved, and that means writing those scenes now is rather pointless. The current draft ends with the resolution of the main plot, and I have to figure out how to tie off all the other loose ends along with the character arcs.

For now, I’m going to take a little break from this book and write a short piece, then I’ll get back to this one. I already have ideas for what I want to do with it, but my brain needs a break.

I did discover one way to up my productivity. I usually do my writing in the afternoon. The aim is to start writing after lunch, but that tends to slip as I get ready to work. It sometimes looks like a kid who’s trying to put off bedtime — I need a story, I need a glass of water, I need my pillow fluffed up, I need a blanket, I think I hear something. But in my case, it’s more like I need my notes, I need my pen, I need the timer, I need a glass of water, I need my word count M&Ms, I need my writing music, etc. Yesterday, I set all that up before lunch, so when it was time to write, I just sat down and went to work. I’d done a thousand words before the time I usually get to work. I will have to do that in the future.

Today, though, is mostly errand and business day, though some errands may get moved to tomorrow because there’s one that can’t be done today, and I might as well just make one trip. Also, my weather radio went off three times this morning, starting at about 5:30 and going off again every time I went back to sleep. There were severe thunderstorms in other parts of the county. I guess it just gives warnings for your county and doesn’t break it down by zip code. I may need a nap before I can face the kindergarten choir tonight.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Star Wars Stories

Last week, they announced a slew of upcoming Star Wars novels, and that made me remember that I’d heard good things about one of the pre-Force Awakens novels, Lost Stars, by Claudia Gray, so I decided to read it.

The story follows two childhood friends who are about the same age as Luke and Leia, born around the time of the fall of the Old Republic and rise of the Empire, but they grow up on an Imperial world, so they have a very different attitude about the Empire than we’ve seen in most of the Star Wars stories. They want nothing more than to grow up to pilot TIE fighters. The story follows them as they attend an Imperial military academy, and then we get a kind of “Lower Decks” view of the events of the original trilogy, as they’re present or aware of most of the major moments, but seeing them from an entirely different perspective. The events surrounding the Death Star send them in different directions and make them question the meaning of loyalty.

I’m not sure how well this book would work as just a science fiction novel for someone who wasn’t familiar with the universe and the story, but it really works to flesh out that universe for people who are fans. We get into the heads of people who fight for the Empire and see that they, too, are fighting for things they believe in, and then when the things they believe in come into question, they’re still fighting for the people around them.

It’s interesting to see what other people think of the main characters from the original movies and how they see those events. So, if you’re a Star Wars fan and want more of that universe, this is definitely worth reading.

This and those announcements of other new books have reminded me of one of my earliest writing ambitions. I’d always made up stories in my head to entertain myself, and our main neighborhood group game was what you could probably call live-action group fan fiction, so I’d made up characters and stories to fit into other “universes,” but once I saw Star Wars, it really jumped into overdrive. Since there was a shortage of female characters, I had to make up characters to play, and that turned into an elaborate mental narrative. Even before Splinter of the Mind’s Eye, the first tie-in novel, was published, I wanted to write a Star Wars book. A lot of my earliest attempts at writing started as mental Star Wars stories that morphed into something original before I put anything on paper. Still, I would have preferred to write them as real Star Wars stories. I just had to change them because that was an unrealistic dream.

But then I realized last week that it’s not quite such an unrealistic dream. I’m a published author. I’ve even written for the publisher that does the Star Wars books. I’m not sure how to pursue it or if I even really want to. There are plusses and minuses. The money is good, and it’s a good way to become a “bestselling” author. It’s a good way to gain a lot more name recognition. But there are a lot of constraints to writing in someone else’s universe, and the attention that comes with it can bring with it a lot of negativity. It brings out some of the more obnoxious fanboy elements, those people who nitpick every detail and throw a fit if it doesn’t match their mental version of that universe. I’m mostly invisible to those people now, since I’m pretty obscure as an author, but doing a Star Wars book would throw me into the middle of that nastiness. I can imagine what they’d say if my name were announced and then they went and saw those cartoony covers — probably something about how I’m going to destroy Star Wars by turning it into a romantic comedy.

Still, whether or not it’s something I end up pursuing, it’s kind of cool to realize that something that seemed completely out of reach when I was a kid isn’t entirely unrealistic now.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Approaching May

I’m closing in on the end of the book — wrote about 5,000 words on Friday and 2,000 on Saturday. I’ve finished the main plot and just need to do the character resolution and wrap-up. That should easily happen this week. Then I need to revise the whole thing, but I may take a slight break and write a shorter piece first. I’ve done so many drafts of the beginning that I need to clear my head before I tackle it again.

Meanwhile, I’ve realized that May is closing in on me, and so I have a lot of stuff I need to get done before I go to the Nebula Awards weekend, which is essentially the annual conference of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. I’m doing a presentation and am on a couple of panels, so I have to actually prepare. And then there’s the usual getting ready for travel stuff. This year is going by so quickly.

Before that, I have WhoFest DFW in a couple of weeks. It’s a local Doctor Who convention, and as a local author and low-level celebrity (that should probably be in ironic quotes), I help fill out the programming slots for events that don’t involve the actual celebrity guests. It’s just down the street from my house, so it’s easy to just run over when I have a panel and then get back home. I’m mostly on the program items that are indirectly about Doctor Who, like other books/TV shows/movies about time travel.

So, that’s my May. Plus writing. Lots of writing. I’m behind my planned schedule, though I’ve spent more time writing this year than I had done up to the middle of July of last year. It’s all those rewrites and false starts of this book, which means I’ve put in the time without the forward progress.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Non-Fiction TV

I’ve mentioned how my television viewing has waned, but I’ve noticed another trend: a lot of what I’m watching now is non-fiction. Most of what’s on my DVR is documentaries. Some of them are work-related, tied to a book I’m writing, plan to write, or might write something along those lines someday. I have a couple of documentaries about being a ballet dancer saved that I’ll watch/re-watch before I work on the next Fairy Tale book. I’ve saved a documentary on the Dust Bowl that’s part of the worldbuilding for a book I have in mind. But then there was a series on the art of the gothic in the Victorian era and how the Gothic Revival was about the reaction to industrialization that I recorded more than a year ago because it looked interesting, and it turned out to be the basis for my worldbuilding in the book I’m working on now that wasn’t even a gleam in my eye at the time I recorded it.

My recent viewing seems to have been focused on World War I, with a three-part American Experience documentary that was really eye-opening. I knew some about that war, but there were a lot of things that weren’t really covered in school, like how the politics worked, both in Europe to set it off and in the US to decide how/when we would get involved. Then there were the things going on in the country at that time, like some really virulent racism and an extreme curtailment on civil liberties. There was also a film related to the war, done in dance, but I wasn’t that impressed by it. The choreography was kind of blah, that contemporary pseudo-ballet that mostly involves a lot of writhing on the floor and making pained expressions.

I also finally got around to watching an Independent Lens piece from a few months ago about the tower shooting at UT. Having gone to the University of Texas, I was pretty familiar with the incident. The bullet holes are still there on the buildings and statues, and I had a habit of looking for the ones I knew about as I walked around campus. They became like landmarks for me. This film portrays the incident in a rotoscope animation, with voiceovers by the people being depicted. That made it very intense and personal, and the shock was seeing some of my familiar bullet holes being made. I’d planned to watch it so I could delete it, but I’m going to have to watch it again to take notes because it was an excellent study on people under stress — the victims, the heroes, and the bystanders. They really got into the physical and emotional sensations and their thought processes, and it’s the kind of stuff that I think I could use for characters to make their reactions more authentic.

The other thing I found a little shocking was just how familiar that version of the university and the area around it was to me — a lot more familiar than my more recent visits. Then I realized that there was less time between that incident and my time at the university than there has been between the time I graduated and now. This film was made in commemoration of the 50th anniversary, and I made my pre-registration visit to do some paperwork, set up a local bank account, and generally scope things out on campus on the day of the 20th anniversary (I got to watch a lot of national news crews at work on campus). The explosive growth of Austin didn’t start happening until late in my time there, so the campus and the area around it hadn’t changed that much between the time depicted in the film and my time there, but a lot has changed since then. It made me feel very old and weirdly nostalgic. I don’t even really like going around the campus now because too much around it has changed.

Meanwhile, a couple of weeks ago it must have been “programming for fantasy writers” day on the National Geographic channel because there was a documentary on finding the “real” Atlantis and one on Stonehenge.

And on the fictional side of programming, with the season finale of The Magicians, there’s even less TV to watch. So maybe I’ll get this book done. And then another.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

The Home Stretch

Yesterday was supposed to be my day to get stuff done other than writing, but I got through my to-do list and still had time, so I got some writing done, too. I’m in the home stretch, with about 20,000 more words to write in this draft, and it’s all outlined. I’ve even seen a lot of the movie in my head. So I’ll be in intense writing mode for the next few days. I tend to write the first quarter and the last quarter of a book quickly, with the middle being the hard part.

I’m also in the home stretch for children’s choir. Just two more sessions where I’m responsible for them and need a lesson plan. This week wasn’t too bad, since a family member of one of the more challenging kids asked if I minded if she sat in. That resolved a lot of the issues, and where it didn’t resolve them, it provided one-on-one handling of anything that came up. I got to focus on teaching, but that meant I had to improvise because I’d put together my lesson plan based on the usual huge gaps I have between activities for getting things under control or having to stop repeatedly for discipline. Without that, I ran out of things to do. I guess I’ll need to come up with more activities for the next couple of weeks since she asked if I minded her coming for the rest of the time. I restrained myself from falling at her feet and whimpering in gratitude.

Today’s writing may be interesting, as allergies have struck with a vengeance. I’ve had times when I’ve been up all night coughing, but up all night sneezing, as I was last night, is new. I guess I won’t be sitting on the patio to work today.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Early Career Planning

In my writing posts, I’ve been talking about writing advice that’s good or that depends on the individual. I found myself thinking once again about that convention panel on career planning for pre-published writers, and there are some things that you might be able to do to give yourself a boost besides just writing. I don’t think all of these are mandatory, but they could be helpful if you do them well. Still, though, the main thing you need to be doing is writing. If you don’t do that, none of the rest of these things will do you any good. I’ve seen a lot of writers stall their potential careers because they got caught up in being involved in writers organizations and conferences, etc., and they thought of that as being writing work, but it kept them from actually writing. They may have been a big shot in the organizations and knew lots of editors because of that, but without anything written, all those connections did no good. So, with each of these activities, you have to ask yourself if you’d be better off spending that time writing.

1) Join a writing organization
This is a good way to network with fellow writers, learn about the craft and the business, meet industry professionals, get feedback on your work, and start getting your name out there even before you’re published. Some of the national genre-specific groups allow unpublished writers to join, and many have local chapters with monthly meetings. There are local groups that meet for critiques or that have speakers. Many libraries and bookstores sponsor writing groups. Check Meet Up, your local library calendar of events, bookstore calendars, or do an Internet search for writing groups associated with your genre.

2) Attend writing conferences
Many of these writing groups sponsor annual conferences. They may be smaller local affairs, just one day with a few guest speakers, or multi-day national conventions with a number of industry professionals. At these events, you can hear expert speakers on the craft and business of writing and schedule pitch sessions with editors and agents. These can be rather expensive, so you might get more bang for your buck if you’re fairly advanced and have a manuscript ready to pitch.

3) Look for other events that include writing activities
While a lot of writing conferences may cost hundreds of dollars to attend, there are fan-oriented genre conventions that include writing activities that may only cost about $40 for the weekend. Look for science fiction or mystery conventions. Many of them include a writers’ workshop and panels on writing. The guest panelists for these events are usually published authors, so even if the convention itself doesn’t include a lot of how-to panels, it may offer you the opportunity to network with writers and talk to published authors.

For any of these in-person activities, you need to present yourself professionally. Don’t shove your manuscript at anyone, don’t corner anyone and force them to listen to a description of your book, don’t derail a panel by asking an irrelevant question that only applies to you or that is only a thinly veiled pitch for your book. Don’t be a jerk, in general. Meeting industry professionals in person can be a positive that helps your career, but it can also hurt you if you make a negative impression or come across like someone who’d be difficult to work with.

4) Study on your own
There are a number of online writing workshops and classes, some free, some at a reasonable cost. Authors, agents, and editors have blogs and write articles on writing. There are books about writing. There are online communities for writers. There’s a lot you can learn without leaving your home.

5) Establish a platform
Do you know a lot about something that might relate to your writing? You might be able to establish a platform based on that before you publish a book, and leverage that into a platform to promote your book. If you’re a lawyer who’s writing legal thrillers, you could write a blog or tweet about legal issues in fiction. Review books and movies involving lawyer characters from the perspective of a lawyer (though you might want to be careful about too much snark about books if you hope to sell a book to editors who published the books you’re tearing apart). Ditto if you’re an aerospace engineer writing science fiction, a folklorist writing fantasy, etc. You can talk about costumes in genre movies, analyze the music, create recipes for dishes mentioned in fiction, or whatever your area of expertise or interest might be.

You can also do this sort of thing if you have a strong voice and can write funny pieces about your own life, witty dissections of movies or TV series, or explorations of pop culture. There are novelists who had huge followings before they ever had a book published.

But don’t feel you have to do this. It takes a lot of time and effort and only really pays off if you have a huge impact.

6) Enter writing contests
I’m actually kind of iffy on this one. There are some manuscript contests sponsored by reputable writing organizations that can get your manuscript in front of editors or agents, skipping the slushpile. But there are also a lot of scams out there. I would be wary of any contest that promises publication as a prize because that prize comes with strict contract terms, with no negotiation. If your book is good enough to win the prize to be published, it’s good enough to be published the normal way, and you might get better terms doing so because then you’d be able to negotiate. For short stories, getting the prize of having your story published on a website means you’ve given up first publication rights and will have a harder time selling it to a real publication. So be sure of what you want out of a contest, who’s judging it, and what happens if you win.

Mostly, though, it’s about the writing. None of these things will do any good if you don’t finish a book and revise it until it’s in publishable condition.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Working Out the End

After a day of brainstorming, I think I’ve figured out what needs to happen for the rest of the book. I dug out my notes from a book on story structure I checked out of the library years ago, and that sparked some ideas. My notes included questions I forced myself to answer, and while I did that, I started seeing the movie in my head.

I know there’s some stuff I’ll have to go back and fix in the next draft, like making a character who’s been drifting on the periphery more prominent and actually defining him, and making the heroine a little more flawed at the beginning so she has room to grow. I’m also not totally sold on the way I did the middle, and there’s one character who may end up being deleted, depending on what I do with the middle. I could eliminate him entirely, except for one critical thing he does in the middle, but once he’s there, I can’t find a way of ditching him. Either he never appears and I find another way to do what he does in the middle, or I’m stuck with him for the rest of the book. I’m worried that his presence dilutes another character who plays a similar role except for that one thing that only he can do, and I think that other character is more interesting and fun.

But first I think I’ll get to the end, and then I’ll make decisions. Let’s see if he earns his keep and does something valuable leading up to the end.

One other thing that came from digging up that old notebook:
That writing book had some exercises for discovering the story you need to be writing. One was to list all the elements you love in books. I did that list, and looking at the list now, I’d say that about 75 percent of them are in this one story. So maybe I’m on the right track.