State of the Writer, mid-July 2014 edition

I am writing this from Brisbane, in its variant of winter — which is kind of like early Fall in Toronto, but with an aston­ishing clarity of sky. It is the perfect weather for walking — it’s very slightly cool, but not so much that a jacket or sweater is required.

I’m writing, instead, but on the balcony.

I’ve finished Oracle. Or rather, I’ve finished the draft. I am hoping to lose about 20k words, starting from page one, because at the moment it is the longest of the House War books, hands down. But: thirty-one chapters, one prologue, one epilogue.

Which means I have started today on Grave. Again, and have finally (late, because arg) started Cast in Honor. Because one book has to be going well, and there is no possi­bility that will, at this point, be Grave.

I feel as if I don’t really have very much to report here >.>.

So, I will ask a question, instead. Lately, on multiple mailing lists, authors of my on-line acquain­tance have been talking about mailing lists. Of their own. I have never done this, in part because I don’t feel I have a lot to say that’s of interest to readers that I don’t say here. It’s fairly easy to just subscribe to blog posts here — and if people subscribe, they’re probably going to find out how the writing has been going (once a month), and when a new book is being released.

But people seem to sign up for mailing lists in larger numbers than they sign up for blog posts, so maybe this is wrong. I realize that the only people who will answer this will be people who find the blog, but will ask anyway: Mailing lists? Yes? No?

ETA: By mailing list, I actually mean: Newsletter. It occurred to me only after reading some of the responses that they are not inter­changeable terms; in other places, mailing list is used to mean Newsletter. Sorry for the lack of clarity >.<

Cast in Flame — Chapter One

Cast in Flame redI managed, due to the laws of physics, to drop a bowl in the kitchen. The bowl did not survive. Sadly, a piece of flying glass decided to avenge the dish, and flew up, cutting my right pinky.

Some argument occurred there­after in the household, because seri­ously, a trian­gular cut on the front pad of the pinky does not constitute an emer­gency. I grudg­ingly allowed that I would be willing to go to the hospital to see about stitches if the bleeding had not stopped within a certain time frame.

So, long story short, the bleeding did not stop within that time frame, and yes, I had to uphold my end of the bargain. And now I have stitches.

Typing is slightly chal­lenging, but I expect by tomorrow it will cause zero pain.

Which is not actually why I’m posting, but let’s just say that the past two days have not been the most productive writing days ever…

I am also a little bit late on posting the sample, for which I apol­ogize — part of my brain is so deadline stressed it refuses to acknowledge that it is June.

So, instead of a one chapter preview, this is two chapters. Cast in Flame Preview.

State of the Author, May 2014 edition

I will start with happy news first:

photo-1I’m not a fabulous photog­rapher >.>. I couldn’t make to to the RT convention, but they mailed the award, and I received it yesterday (I had it sent to the book­store because someone is always there during the day).

At the moment, it is sitting beside my computer, along with the birthday card I received from DAW (which would be: Sheila Gilbert, Betsy Wolheim, Joshua Starr, Katie Hoffman, and Briar (whose last name I can’t find >.>).

This is all good, because: I have — for entirely different reasons, jetti­soned the 55k words of Grave, and started it again. And then again. And then again. So: I am working, and have been working, on this book, which I honestly thought would be finished by now. I have not pulled out all my hair.

Oracle is going well, on the other hand. If it weren’t for the fact that it’s so long, it would be a joy to write. Length has always been one of my big stressors — and this is true whether I’m writing a short, a novella, or a novel. My sense of how long some­thing will be before I actually write it is tenu­ously linked to reality.

On the other hand, Silence and Touch were short books. Grave will be short. So maybe stress about story length is the better stress.

In other news: I am Behind On Life. I have done very little reading recently, I have watched no movies. Tower of God is on hiatus, so I don’t have the Sunday morning ToG chapter to antic­ipate. I have been working on ebook proof-reading/formatting, but not quickly. I promised someone that the UK ebook of Oracle would be available at the same time as the US ebook version — and I still intend to do that, but I’d hoped to release the ebooks at more regular intervals, and at this rate, they’re probably going to all appear close to the same day >.<.

But, on the bright side, it is a gorgeous day; it is warm, but not hot, and I am about to sit down to work on Grave again.

 

Writing Process and TOUCH (SPOILERS if you haven’t read it)

A while ago, I said I would discuss Touch, and why it was the book from hell, for me.

So, this is that post, and if you are not inter­ested in the nuts and bolts of it, I urge you to close the browser window, because: long.

——

I don’t talk as much about the process of writing here as I do in real life. I don’t think it would be possible — I think my fingers would fall off first.

But in part I don’t write about it often because I am very, very aware that no two writers work the same way. Ever. Even when I’m talking with another writer and we’re using the same process words, we’re not actually using them in the same way. I don’t want people who love my books to come here and assume that this means they should work the way I work when they’re trying to write their own book, because often, it won’t help.

All of writing is discov­ering the process by which you can write your story. Some people outline exten­sively. Some people don’t. Some people come up with char­acter studies and sketches, some don’t. Some people write blaz­ingly fast first drafts, and then revise wholesale. Some don’t. (I’m not, for instance, a “get some words down and then you can work on them later” writer, because the words are part of the whole, and if the words are wrong, the story is wrong. This is not true of everyone, and it doesn’t have to be; some of my favorite writers are very much ‘get any words down and fix them in iter­ative revi­sions’) The only thing that matters, in the end, is the finished book or story. Getting to that point is entirely individual.

So: again. No two writers work the same way and nothing I say here is meant to be proscriptive. This is not about the Right Way to write a novel (in point of fact, it’s about Touch, which…was not the smoothest of books for me, and therefore could be considered the exact opposite). What works for me — or what doesn’t work for me — may well fail to work for you, or conversely, it may be a raging success.

Part of the reason I am being so emphatic is: writer. I under­stand how easy it is to look at other people’s processes and … want somehow to be able to write like that. Even now. I have type-A tendencies in real life, and my process does not mesh well with those — if I could outline every­thing and make it work, I would be in control of so much more. There are struc­turally very clever things I could do on purpose.

Most of the time, I don’t feel like this, because most of the time I remember that this doesn’t work. And yes, this is relevant.

—–

I am not an outliner.

A discussion with someone who is an outliner made clear to me why I can’t: an outline, when written down, is a commitment. It’s a plan. Having committed a plan to paper, I feel bound to and by it, and it becomes completely restrictive. The people who can work with outlines use them as guide­lines. If, when they’re writing, they diverge from the outline as a natural outcome of what they’ve written, they go with the book they’re writing.

Me? I get ulcers. This is clearly a function of the way I view plans — but, regardless, in my internal process, outlines are anathema. This does not mean, if you outline, that you are doing it wrong. There is no wrong in writing process.

When forced to come up with plot infor­mation about a book that I haven’t written yet, I punt; I generally describe the forces arrayed against the protag­o­nists, and then add a little bit of “and the char­acter has to survive” at the end, which is very hand-wavey. I write briefly about what I think the book will be about, because I know the plot on the surface of things. I am often, but not always, wrong. This causes my mother deep confusion, since I’m writing the book and creating the char­acters — but there you have it.

There is an alchemy for me, in actually writing the char­acters and their inter­ac­tions, and their inter­ac­tions often cause sudden lane changes. Char­acter is plot, when I write. I don’t always under­stand the question: “What’s more important, Char­acter or Plot?” because in my process, they can’t be sepa­rated. (And, again, this is one process. The fact that I do it this way does not mean that everyone has to do it this way, or that there is some­thing intrin­si­cally wrong with books written by authors who don’t. I’m sorry if I repeat this “no right way” a lot, but it is really necessary. You can write a fabulous book doing the exact opposite of what I do. You can write a fabulous book doing half of what I do and half of what would kill me to do.)

When I start, I know the end of the book, and I know the tone or voice of the book; I know who the main char­acter is, or who the main char­acters are. I will do non-page words for world-building, etc.; things char­acters know, names of orga­ni­za­tions, bits about the economics. Unfor­tu­nately, I will write this all down and then I will some­times fail to check. I fail because when I’m writing, I’m certain I do know, and, well. The world­building also evolves. Every­thing that isn’t on the printed, public page can. It’s only truly embar­rassing when I forget that I have, in fact, stated some­thing before.

But.

I had a really clever 3 book struc­tural plan for Queen of the Dead. Everyone who writes talks about 3 act plays and the structure of 3 act plays — and most hollywood movies are, in fact, 3 act plays. It’s clearly a narrative structure that works for the majority of readers. And I have never been able to consciously utilize it.

And of course, because so many people I admire do work this way, even though I know better, I feel as if I should be smarter. I should have it figured out. Yes, this is stupid. Sadly, I am frequently stupid in this way.

So.

I started Touch. I knew what I wanted to do with the book. I knew where it had to go and how it had to end, because I know how grief works. I was — dare I say it? — pleased because I thought I had finally figured it out. I knew what had to happen.

And I started to write Touch. I knew the elements that would come into play, I knew how, and I knew the effect they would have on Emma. For instance: Mercy Hall’s new boyfriend. Grief and loss are the things Emma feels they have in common. Her mother’s new boyfriend is proof to Emma that … they don’t.

But I wrote 55k words and realized that the book was not, in fact, going to go where it needed to go. I could write the plot that I had in my head — but it wouldn’t work. It would be a series of events that made logical sense. It wouldn’t have the reso­nances that would make those events work. And. Fine. I’ve thrown out 600 pages before, when I realized that what I was doing was simply never going to work.

But… every other time I’ve done that, it’s because I knew exactly what had gone wrong. And this time, what I knew was: to get the ending I had outlined and planned, I had to start again. Since the story itself hadn’t worked, I started it again — but from Nathan’s point of view. (And with a different ghost, and a different plot framework.)

I wrote 30k words and realized that this completely different book would still not, emotionally, get me to the ending I had planned. I kept the prologue of that attempt. I started the book again. But this time, I decided that the problem with my plot, or at least its presen­tation, was the viewpoint.

Grief is always difficult when seen entirely from the inside. So…I started the book from a different view­point. And — that didn’t work, either.

I have never, in the 25+ novels I’ve written, started a book more than twice. This book, the shortest book I owed anyone, was, in terms of word­counts needed to reach the actual end, one of the longer books I’ve written.

It wasn’t until the fourth iter­ation that I finally under­stood what the problem I was having actually was. The char­acters them­selves were never going to go to that ending. Unless I broke them or ignored their voices entirely, the story was never going to go to the end of my conceived second act. The epiphany was the small scene in the published book in which Emma phones her mother to tell her that she was mistaken about the library/study date, and that she’ll be home for dinner after all.

Genna Warner has said, else­where, that she almost didn’t finish Touch because she knew where it was going: she was certain that Emma was going to bring Nathan back to life. And I will now confess that that is, in fact, where I had intended to take the book, because: I have been a teenage girl in love. I personally believed that Emma could make this decision when I came up with my 3 act play structure. I thought she would feel isolated, that the mother’s new boyfriend would cause a break because, of course, if her mother could find someone else, it must mean that her mother had never really loved her father (and this so not true). I knew that Mark’s situ­ation – being aban­doned to die by his own mother – would outrage Emma. Risking her life for the sake of Andrew Copis was entirely different; it was cleaner and clearer.

I knew that Allison would not be happy about Nathan’s return — worry for Emma, mostly — and that Emma could choose this one, true love in a moment of pain and loss.

I’ve said, often, that char­acter defines story, for me. Char­acters do things I didn’t expect and couldn’t predict while outlining. I can outline. I can plot. I can come up with very, very solid synopses. But — they’re not the book, because it’s the actual writing that defines the book itself. And it took me four iter­a­tions of clinging to the idea of the 3 act structure before I remem­bered and accepted that: this is not how I write books.

And then, I wrote the book. I accepted that nothing I could do to Emma was ever going to produce a book that ended in the second act of the 3-act structure, because that’s not actually who Emma — as already written in Silence — is. And I under­stood, the moment Mark’s mother opened the door, what Emma had to learn, and why, heading into Grave.

And if you have read this far, and you’re curious, I’ve included the 30k words of attempt 2. (The other iter­a­tions have infor­mation that would be considered serious spoilers for Grave). Since most of my struc­tures tend to be emotional and tonal, the base events of this particular set of words is nothing at all like the published book.

Touch Partial B.pdf

 

Cast in Flame: Cover

So… thanks to the modern miracle of Junk folders, I did not actually see the go ahead to post my cover until today.

Since I have been sitting on this cover for a month or two (it feels like TWO YEARS), I was surprised to hear that the cover had gone live on Amazon​.com. I emailed my editor to ask if I could post the pre-pub version that I had, since it was live on Amazon​.com, and she said…We sent you the cover link, because I was CCed on it. But, politely. And…she was right. So I have been waiting an extra four unnec­essary days T.T.

But, in the theory that late is better than never: Cast in Flame. This is the cover that I went to the photo shoot for. I had a rough idea of the design from that shoot because Kathleen Oudit had the rough design with her; I watched Kathleen and the photog­rapher, Glenn Mackay, work with the model to take a series of shots over a couple of hours, one of which graces the cover.

And then the photo itself was sent to Shane Reben­schied. And now: I have the finished cover. It is my favourite of the Cast covers to date, and I say that as someone who has liked all of her Cast covers.

Cast in Flame