Wednesday, July 20, 2016

The To-Be-Read Pile

Ah, it happens every so often that my TBR pile exceeds my reading. I'm the sort of person who, in a good year, may read upwards of a hundred books but... Not every year is a good year. So the books have piled up a bit and I'm trying to motivate myself by swearing off buying any new books until I read the ones I have.

Yes, feel free to snicker in disbelief at that statement.

I'm pretty sure all of the books I've bought and not yet read aren't even in this pile and I've just forgotten about them.

So, this list seems to be as follows (though unlikely to be read in this order):

Reap the Wind by Karen Chance
A Breath of Snow and Ashes by Diana Gabaldon
The Silvered by Tanya Huff
Skulduggery Pleasant by Derek Landy
The Magic Thief Home by Sarah Prineas
The Graverobber's Apprentice by Allen Stratton
The Sister's Grimm Book 1 by Michael Buckley
Ghost Hunters by Deborah Blum
Boneshaker by Cherie Priest
Copper Magic by Julia Mary Gibson
Her Royal Spyness by Rhys Bowen
The Ladies of Grace Adieu by Susanna Clarke
Jonathon Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke
The Last Dragonslayer by Jasper Fforde
Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
The Eyeball Collector by F.E. Higgins (though I didn't realize it was the 3rd book in a series so...I may have to pick up the first two)
The Blue Girl by Charles de Lint
The Book of Irish History by Amy Hackney Blackwell and Ryan Hackney

(Yes, I skipped Catfantastic, I've already read it and simply forgot it was in the stack.)

As you can tell, I've got some variance in age bracket, though genre is somewhat consistent. I don't read a lot of non-fiction, but I've read The Poisoner's Handbook from Deborah Blum before, so I've got high hopes for Ghost Hunters. I've made a habit of going into Half-Price Books clearance section and looking through the MG and YA sections for anything I've never seen before. Some of these were gifts, but I find that there can be real gems hidden away in the "unpopular" books that get shelved in clearance along with the half-dozen copies of Twilight.

I am currently reading the second half of the Author's Choice edition of Strangely Beautiful by Leanna Renee Heiber.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Pitchwars? Apparently so.

Indeed, I have decided to jump into the fray this year. While I can't say my novel writing was compressed into a tidy Disney montage (no matter how much I would have liked that) I can say I'm happy to be making the attempt. 

So, as the man says, let's get down to business. Brass tacks. 

The Book: A Matter of Mummies takes a leaf out of Penny Dreadfuls for a middle grade audience. Mummy murders terrorize Victorian Dublin and it's going to take a kid genius, her police inspector sidekick and a few werewolves to solve it. 

 Follow twelve-year-old Liadan Foley as she evades electrotherapy, tries to recover missing memories and solve the murders--all while trying to figure out how to handle having an overprotective guardian. 

It's the kind of book I wanted to read when I was a kid, with a super smart girl who's brave and vulnerable, set in one of my favorite cities and showcasing some interesting historical facts. Plus, you know, I'm a sucker for alt. history because Diana Wynne Jones is my hero.

Who shall follow me on this journey of woe? 
I'm looking for someone who can help me catch plot holes, see things I've overlooked. I usually need some help fleshing things out a bit. I like my stories lean and I can be a bit sparser than necessary. I can take critique and I like doing the work. I mean, sure, line edits aren't the most fun thing ever, but the results always make me happy.

The Author: I take my tea with sugar and honey and milk (because I'm a heathen) and spend my free time perfecting my baking techniques, reading about murder and pretending my internet search history is perfectly normal. I can't drink (because I'm allergic) so instead I eat chocolate. I'm not sure if that's better or not.

My cat bites (and drools), I have a book related tattoo and I've spent much of the summer trying to find the best strawberry ice cream (It's a toss up right now between Jeni's and Graeter's).

I know, he doesn't look evil.
I grew up on Queen, Evanescence and Garth Brooks. These days, I'm still a Queen fan, but country music and I have parted ways--though my recent obsession with the Decemberists tells me that folk music and I aren't done. 

I love historical TV shows so yes I rewatch Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries, Murdoch Mysteries, Penny Dreadful... There's a theme there. If it's fantasy, I've probably watched it, no matter how bad and I have a secret terrible addiction for Disney channel movies.

I can't pick a favorite book, but if asked what book shaped me as a writer? Well, that's probably a tie between Bram Stoker's Dracula and The Time City by Diana Wynne Jones.

You can find me on Twitter and Facebook!

I don't smile in photos. It's a thing.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

The Book

I wrote many stories as a child, but I have a very clear memory of the first novel I ever wrote. Ever finished. I was immensely proud. Flash forward a couple years and I took my first stab at a rewrite. And another. And another. And another.

I think I rewrote this book ten times, but I never really finished it and I was never really happy with it. It became this sort of monster always waiting to suck me back in for another go. I never seemed to have a handle on what wasn't working. Why I couldn't finish it.

I'm a believer in the idea that with some stories, there is a right time for them to be written. There are books you keep in your drawer that you never really abandon. The ones you know have problems can't really let them go. This one of those books. I wasn't really self-aware enough as a teenager to write this book. I wasn't educated enough to write this book.

More importantly, I hadn't really figured out who these characters were. I started rewriting it more recently, something started to click. Plot details I'd never considered started to emerge. Character betrayals. Shifts in attitudes. Name changes. Physique changes. The more things changed, the closer I seemed to get to what I was missing.

I kept writing and I kept digging and then--I hit a wall. I was still missing something. Something important. Astrid was missing something. I was sort of just screwing around on Tumblr, as one does when they're supposed to be writing, when I a post caught my eye. I knew what I missing. I knew what I'd gotten wrong with Astrid.

In my teenager years, I didn't write gay characters. I didn't have any books or TV shows that had gay characters. It wasn't a conscious choice. There just weren't a lot of them around. The landscape is certainly changing now, but back then it didn't even occur to me that Astrid could be gay. We talk about a shortage of YA fiction with LGBT MC now, it was a desert then. Especially at a school in the middle of a corn field.

So when I realized Astrid wasn't straight, it was like a damn light bulb went off. This book that I had been struggling with for so long suddenly came together in the course of a few days. The pieces fell into place. I'd been looking at Astrid as one thing for so long and to finally have this book finished. Sometimes, writer's block isn't just about a lack of ideas. Sometimes, it's because there's something just wrong in the story and until we find it, we can't move forward.

I'm just glad I figured it out. I'm glad I found the right way to tell this story and I'm glad I can move on to the next thing--like Astrid's second book. 

Sunday, July 10, 2016

On Under-Writing VS. Over-Writing

You know what advice you get every time you start edits on your novel? It's CUT. Cut this. Cut that. Cut had. (Some of these are generally true, like seriously go through and cut every other that, you probably don't need them.) But for those of us who start with bones and work outward, this advice is more often than not--wrong.

In a world that seems full of advice for those that over-write, those that pound out 100K word-plus first drafts and then trim, squeeze and massage their books into a shape that makes the most sense, the under-writers are left feeling a bit out of place.

I didn't even know there was a word for the way I wrote until a week ago when a writer friend pounced on me and said, "I just read this article about the difference between under-writers and over-writers."

It was like a lightbulb went off. I understood why so much of the editing advice I'd seen just didn't jive with the way I wrote.

Because I am not an over-writer. I do not start with hundreds of thousands of words. My first drafts are short. Lean. Sparse. Like a desert spotted with small oasis of information. The advice, while good for those who do write that way, doesn't work for me.

I was left constantly thinking I was somehow doing it wrong. That my method of writing, the thing that worked for me, was wrong. Eventually I just stopped caring about that and found my own ways of working through the editing problems an under-writer faces with their manuscripts. I would go through my drafts, flagging scenes that needed development, and sure, there were generally some cuts made but when I write a second draft, for every 500 words I cut, I usually add in another 1500 or more.

One good example of this is the first draft I wrote of my most recent WIP, Bloodlines. That first draft was 40,000 words. Done. Dead. The new draft, with savage cuts, changes and alterations? 85,000 words. This is a pattern I've repeated with nearly every book I've ever written. Drastically short initial drafts that then fill in as work through the edits.

And it's not a wrong way to work, it's just a different way to work. For me, the idea of writing down hundreds of thousands of words, knowing that I'll be cutting half, seemed--odd. Not right. Because it wasn't right for me. My first drafts are bones. The skeleton the story stands on. Edits are the part where I start adding in meat and flesh (to continue this rather macabre comparison), painting in the finer details. For those of you out there that are like me, those of you who don't over-write, there's nothing wrong with working this way.

Yes, there will be things you cut. Yes, there will be things you change. But your end word count should be higher at the end of the draft than it was when you started, not lower.

Another example would be this book I wrote that, for the first time ever in a first draft, broke 100K words. I was shocked. Confused.

And then I realized, it's two books. Not one. TWO. I broke it apart, rewrote both drafts and was left with book one at 73K and the other at 84K. I believe one started at somewhere around 60K and the other around 40K. I added, I cut, I prodded, poked and finagled. But the massive cuts you generally see advised never happened.

Whatever way you write, if it works for you, keep doing it. And if you, like me, are an under-writer, you are not alone. You aren't writing the wrong way. You're just, different.