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Sunday, March 29, 2009


So, the Exceptional Spouse and I are taking a little family spring break jaunt up Chicago way this week. Though I don't expect much time to work, I don't feel as if I can leave writing totally behind. So what pieces can I do while traveling?

I usually take too much, but I want to allow for "how the mood strikes me." I will always take along:

1. a laptop in case I want to enter edits, update the website, blog (!!) or just check email. Since Christmas, I've had a tiny laptop for traveling in addition to the sturdy Sony that I live with. This is my first air travel with the little beastie, and it is great. Very lightweight. Fits on the tray table without any worries that the person in front of me will lean the seat back and crush the screen. Nice.

2. Something of the current WIP printed on paper (for the times with no electronic devices, at the least, or in case I run out of battery power). This time, I brought the first two chapters of The Soul Mirror along. Also, despite my intent not to revise for a while, I brought a few middle chapters of The Spirit Lens that I hadn't looked at in a while. Just in case...

3. Other pages I have for review. I completed the reviews I was doing for a writers conference. So I brought the three page sets I'm reading for the Norwescon Writers Workshop. I've done a first read on two of them. Still one to read fresh, and then the actual review and writeup to go for all three.

So what won out on the trip up here? The internal chapters of The Spirit Lens! They're some I haven't looked at in a while - and presage an important turning point in the book (and they're some I really like - Portier is in real trouble). I did some word tightening and cleanup. A little updating according to the new things I learned by the time I got to the end. Best of all, I had an insight as to the climax...not of The Spirit Lens, but of the new book. Somehow, having been immersed in the new book and going back to a place where I sort of strip Portier down and learn what he's made of, gave me an idea about the destination for his character arc in the second book - which meshes nicely with Anne's arc and several others. Yes, Yes, I like it.

If I get all these edits put in before heading home later in the week, we'll see where the muse might take me as I journey home. I'm glad she was along for the ride!
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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Beginning Again

OK, it's time to get serious about The Soul Mirror. For a couple of weeks, in between life and the short story, I've been dabbling with a couple of opening chapters that I wrote WAY a long time ago when I was first developing the proposal for the series. Originally I had thought I might begin the series with this piece of the story. But it turned out there was too much backstory...and so I developed that into The Spirit Lens. But, of course, now that I'm back to these chapters, they don't quite fit anymore. Not so much that the story left them behind

- the narrator is the same person I had envisioned (her name is Anne and she is 21).
- the place she finds herself in chapter one is the same (a graveside in a ravine).
- her "life predicament" is the same (that is, she is very much alone, because her family is scattered to the four winds: one dead, one missing, one held hostage, one confined because of madness. Whew!)

but because...

...the circumstances that underlie all of this are much richer (a euphemisn for more complicated!) I know about spectres, hauntings, pendulums, religious beliefs (or lack thereof), the illicit practice called "transference," and who the bad guys really are. I know the circumstances of her family's dissolution. And I know Portier.

Portier started out as a "device" - a surrogate observer to tell us the story of The Spirit Lens. As seems to happen with me (see Seyonne!) my narrative observers take on an importance of their own in the story. So the first thing I have to do is decide whether I'm going to time share the narrative duties. Which means I have to do a lot of thinking about the coming story... I HATE that.

There are some other reasons I have to give more careful advance thought to a sequel story...

  1. I will have a limited window to make needed alterations in The Spirit Lens.

  2. My hands are overflowing with character threads, mystery threads, unanswered questions, who knows what lists, and other hard little nuggets that have to be accounted for. A first book has infinite flexibility. A middle book is a pipeline between the first and third and must take the outflow from the first and make an exciting and sensible transition to the climactic events of the third (while have its own climax.)

  3. The schedule is tightest for a second book, as I'll have first book revisions to deal with and third book development to deal with all in the same year.

So I've written an eight-page list, including
  1. incidents that have to happen

  2. questions that have to be answered

  3. things that I don't know yet

  4. what has been happening in the four years between books

More later on how it works out!
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Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Writing Short

So what have I been up to since turning in The Spirit Lens? Besides catching up on some business around the house, I've been working on several writing projects.

First, despite my best intentions to avoid looking at The Spirit Lens for at least a month, I spent about a week rewriting those last 30K words. I sent it in having scarcely read it over, so there was lots to do. It is now much cleaner and I've put it aside. Giving yourself time away from a manuscript is the first rule of Revision.

Second, I've been dabbling with the opening of The Soul Mirror. I've written some notes in the line of "Unanswered questions" and "What's been happening in the four years between the books?" Much more about that in another post.

But my most serious work has been on a short story for the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers' 2009 anthology called Broken Links, Mended Lives. This is a 5K word story, as opposed to the 25K word novella Unmasking (Elemental Magic, Berkley 2007). As you may have guessed, I just don't write short, mostly because I don't read short. I like to get invested in characters, and I just hate it when I've just gotten involved and it's over. But I agreed to do this story - the editors are my excellent friends - and I had to do it quick. And my enjoyment in writing Unmasking had a lot to do with my agreement to do this!

So 5000 words. Not much time for world building. Not much time for character development. I am convinced that people who write excellent short stories are akin to poets. Because the trick seems to be, Make every word count. No time for those wishy-washy verbs or weasel words like very, quite, half, really, almost. No time for a plethora of adjectives or extra dialog tags.

Even more difficult, you still have to produce a story arc. Some kind of beginning, middle, end that incorporates a fundamental change. My first draft turned out flat, a young woman in a post-apocalyptic world finds out something stunning that changes her life, only...I didn't show it. Her reaction was so subtle, her character so accustomed to holding everything in that she...held everything in. I knew it. I felt it. My critique group confirmed it. And...

I fixed it! It only took a few extra words. A few reactions on her part. A clearer presentation of her choice. A slightly more visible struggle. And just three or four words at the end that demonstrated her fundamental change. And it came out 5017 words.

Want to read a teaser?

At Fenwick Faire

My parents never told me I had Talent. Perhaps they thought it undignified for the daughter of a city magistrate, or felt it might frighten me or make me insolent. Or maybe they just left it too late, and had the lack of consideration to die of plague before warning me.

Now don't think me unfeeling, but when one is ten years old and the whole world seems to be dying of plague, or slaughtering each other for fear of it, or taking flight to escape it, one has little time to grieve, or even to recall why one should. When civilization has erupted into chaos, the next meal looms much larger in importance than past grieving.

Six years I spent scrabbling in search of that next meal before I trudged up a rock-blasted hill and through the iron gate of Fenwick Priory. By that time I had seen far more of men and life than was really necessary, and taking up residence with a group of similarly exhausted women seemed sensible. The sisterhood grew vegetables, kept to themselves, and did no good works to speak of. I had no illusion that this would be a permanent situation. The sisters didn't seem that agreeable, and entanglement of any sort made me want to cram a shiv in someone's craw.

"You'll tend a plot, Girl," said the bony Prioress, licking the beaded honey from a suckle blossom grown right out of the crumbled courtyard wall. "Each of us has one."

"Don't know how," I said and scratched my itchy foot on a cracked step. "Not opposed, but I never learnt. My parents called planting hireling's work. I'll scrub for you. Fetch and carry. Steal, if you want. I'm good at those."

"You don't tend a plot, you don't eat. Go or stay, as you will."

I stayed. The road had got tiresome of late. My boots had fallen to pieces, and a thieving tallyman had jacked my knife. Bare hands or sticks weren't enough to fend off the skags now I was ripe. Last thing I needed was a squaller planted inside me. My own belly was empty half the time.

Early on my second morning, Prioress marched me down the long valley back of the priory, past twenty or so vegetable patches. "Choose," she said, waving her hand around the empty scrubland.

I didn't know squat about gardens, but I walked about and settled on a spot. "Here."

With sticks and knotted string pulled from dead women’s dresses, the Prioress staked out a square of hard gray dirt. "There's wood in the shed and a chisel to make your tools. When you're ready to plant, we've seed stock in the vault."

One of the sisters, digging nearby, mopped her sweat and snickered. She sounded like the cicadas rasping in the dry brush. "Can't eat the weeds, stupid Girl. Got to pull them before you can plant. You just chose yourself more work."

So I had. Spiky thistles and snarls of threadweed littered my plot. Thistles would sting, and tough, fibery threadweed would cut my hands, but it made sense that if something grew there now, something other might.

To be sure, the cultivated plots roundabout looked little better. Stunted beans. Wilted greens. The sisters saved them from parched oblivion by hauling water from a nearby stream, doling it out drop by precious drop. The stream itself was scarce but a trickle of spit.

You see, our land had been thirty years without rain...
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Thursday, March 12, 2009

Demons and Shapeshifters

I am a guest blogger today on Authorial, agently, and personal ramblings, which is my agent, Lucienne Diver's blog. The topic? Gargoyles, and Demons, and Shifters, Oh My!

In my offering, I list my four rules for story development, especially when incorporating some fantasy trope like shapeshifting or the fae or demons. And these four are...

  1. Make things really bad for heroes (could you have guessed this?)
  2. Make things different than in other stories
  3. No black and white
  4. Reverse it all
I illustrate these points with the rai-kirah books.

Over the past week, Lucienne has hosted guest blogs from a number of her writers who do shapeshifters and demons and other beasties - including Lynn Flewelling, Faith Hunter, and Susan Krinard.

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Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Grammar and Usage Peeves

As I was typing today, my fingers accidentally stuck an apostrophe in a plural word. I caught it instantly, breathing hard. It is one of my pet peeves. I'm starting to see it everywhere, as in, The Markowski's went to the store or Stock up on the advantage's of insurance. Aarrgh.

Apostrophes are used for contractions:

it is = it's
is not = isn't

Apostrophes are used for some possessives:
Mary's ball, The Fratellis' horses, the nation's president, the Markowskis' house or George Markowski's house

Apostrophes are not used for possessive pronouns:
his horse, her horse, its mother

And apostrophes are certainly not used for plurals.

Here's a usage blooper I caught in a news article the other day:
It doesn’t take a musical scholar to deduct all of this wasn't as 'artistically significant' as what came after.

Ouch! We deduct charitable donations from our income taxes, or deduct the cost of goods sold from the sales price to calculate our profits, but we deduce conclusions from evidence using our reasoning processes.

Here are a few more things I'm seeing everywhere lately.

troop: Since when did troop come to mean an individual soldier? Troop is a collective noun. Like Girl Scout troop. If you say "five troops were injured in Afghanistan today," that's really more than five individuals.

I think perhaps our news people are shying away from soldier. Or is it that they're trying to be gender inclusive? Well, soldier or sailor can be either. How odd would it be if we said, "George is an army troop"? But that's what we're implying when we talk talk about troops as individuals.

momentos: No such word! Keepsakes have to do with memory. Thus even if they are fleeting keepsakes, they are mementos.

graduate high school: Graduate is not a transitive verb. It does not take a direct object. Thus one "graduates from high school."

decimated: I'm thinking that people are confusing decimate with devastate, as in this quote from CNN: "Australia's raging wildfires have decimated massive spans of land."

Decimate actually implies a much sparer kind of destruction. OK, we don't have to limit its use to exact 1 in 10 destruction as its origins specify. To decimate derived from the Roman custom of killing one in ten rebels in the army. But decimate certainly implies a more selective destruction.

I'll bet the rest of you have some pet peeves, too. Let's air them out!
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