Crossposted to the Deadline Dames, where there are new releases, contests, and all sorts of other fun and no-bullshit writing advice. Check us out!

Well, hello. It’s Wednesday again. First, two announcements!

Yes, this is espresso and Bailey’s in a mug that says “I am going to hex your face off.” After I Tweeted that picture, I was snowed-under with queries about where to buy said mug. I got mine in 2006 from a CafePress shop (the shop’s owner was “lalejandra2″) that has now gone under. At least, I can’t find it. Which led to me putting a version of the mug up in my own shop, with no markup. (Because I feel incredibly uncomfortable with the idea of a profit, however tiny, from it.) It goes without saying that if I find the original seller, I’ll change the links and direct everyone there. But I’ve dug and dug, and can’t find her.

Announcement #2 is kind of vague. Remember that zombie-hunting cowboy trunk novel I was working on? The one I was just delighted with, and was sure would never sell? Well…paint me lilac and call me Conrad, it sold. I can’t give any details, but I can say that I’m sort of…bowled over.

Now that’s taken care of, let’s talk about ideas. (WARNING: I am foulmouthed today. Read at your own risk.)

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted from A Fire of Reason. You can also comment there.

Crossposted to the Deadline Dames, who you should really be reading. Because we’re awesome.

Instead of the Snowpocalypse we feared (and that Seattle is currently suffering under the spike heel of) we’ve got rain. Lots of rain. Well, this is the Pacific Northwest, and I happen to like rain, but I wish the weather would make up its mind. Heavy wet snow yesterday, melt and easily an inch of rain today, branches down everywhere and my morning run more like a swim–oh, I know I could have used the treadmill, but Miss B was inside all day yesterday, which meant it was either get her out for a run or go to the dog park and stand in mud up to my knees. An appetizing choice, indeed.

Plus, the Little Prince became, once more, Sir Pewksalot last night. All of which is a roundabout way of saying my temper and nerves are equally frayed, and I decided on a Three Things post because if I start on a rant or two now there will be nothing but a smoking crater left where my computer used to be. (Expensive.) Not to mention with all the biting and snarling going on all over the Internet about Authors Daring To Speak, so to speak, and a rant doesn’t seem like a good idea. For lo, if I strap on my armor now and go all Don Quixote after Idiot Entitled Jerks On The Internet, I may never stop. And I’ve writing to do, so…yeah. Three things. Let’s see.

* Kickass is not a prerequisite. It’s not even a requisite. I swear to God, someday I am going to write about Milquetoast von Constipated, a potbellied, balding vampire with bowel issues who lives in Minnesota and, whenever there is an incident of violence, he *gasp* alerts the authorities! Together with his werecow buddy, Milton Morton (who is not only vegan but gets tipped every full moon), they do not fight crime willingly. Rather, they sort of bumble through and the police take care of things on their own. (As to why he has bowel issues when he’s on a liquid diet, I’ll just say, have you ever tried to live on protein shakes? HAVE YOU?)

Sounds amusing, doesn’t it? But it’s sparked by a frustration of mine: where is it written that I can’t write anything other than kickass leather-clad wiseacres? I mean, I’m very glad people connect with my kickass heroes and heroines, but that isn’t all I write, it isn’t all I am. It isn’t all the world consists of. I dislike it intensely when I write a character whose strength is internal and am immediately subjected to a “but your fans won’t recognize…” Screw that. They will recognize, and those who send me venomous screeds about how I should just stick to writing kickass chicks even though I don’t do so very well (seriously, it’s like the writers of these things all got together in a room somewhere) can just go…fly kites. Yes. fly kites.

The point of this is: If you’re used to writing one thing, and you want to write another thing, go ahead and do it. You may have to attempt a couple times before you get a salable piece, but it will teach you things about writing that staying in your comfort zone will not. I’m fairly okay at writing angst and violence, but you know what I would really love? I would love to be talented at writing comedy. Comedy is hard effing work, it doesn’t come naturally to me. (Unless it’s bleak black macabre humor. Heh.) It doesn’t stop me from wanting and trying, and from seeking other types of characters and stories to play with. What you’re good at writing and what you want to write may be two different things, but you should try them both.

* The Levenger catalog is pure crack. I mean, their 3X5 cards are incredibly useful while revising or making grocery lists, both things I do at my computer. My bag lust is inflamed every time I see their briefcases. And, oh my God, the desk sets. The desk sets. It’s nice to reward myself with some lovely tools after slogging through a zero draft. I nerd all over their paper, and one day, one day, I will have a Levenger desk. I’ll save my pennies, by God, and I will have it.

Other things I keep within easy reaching distance while I’m writing: a statue of Ganesh writing, some Climb On creme, cell phone, tarot cards (Rider-Waites, for those curious), Moleskine notebook, a couple pads of paper both legal and Levenger, scissors, pens and sharpened pencils, rubber bands, a Keep Calm and Carry On paperweight, two pink plastic flamingos, six dictionaries, two thesauri, two visual dictionaries, assorted other reference works from encyclopedias of military arms to herbals and Jack the Ripper books. Also, two copies of Jane Eyre, plus six or seven DVDs of different treatments of Jane Eyre, and a few Wuthering Heights. (Don’t ask.) Also, tissues, ibuprofen, and Carmex. Because you never can tell.

The flamingos are for practicing dialogue with. (But that’s another blog post.)

* Beware of great ideas. “A million cat clocks! That’s a GREAT idea!” Then some of them started looking a little odd because their tails weren’t moving. And I had to find more batteries. This just goes to show you, great ideas are only great until one gets to the care, feeding, and administrivia involved. (Note: I have six cat clocks, all on my living-room wall. And I want more.)

What does this have to do with writing? Simple. Beware of great ideas. Sometimes they happen halfway through a zero draft, and you either have to go back and alter what you’ve already written to account for the Great Idea, or you just go ahead and write as if the Great Idea has been there all the time, which means the first half of revising the zero draft is likely to send you to the booze cabinet sooner rather than later. Sometimes the Great Ideas happen during revision, and one should be careful because they are like pebbles thrown into a quiet pond. (BOOT TO THE HEAD!) The ripples spread throughout the entire book, which may mean you have to go back and deal with tweaking everything before and after in subtle and overt ways. Rippling tweakage is another thing that will send you to the booze cabinet during revisions. Or to banging your head against a brick wall, whichever is handier. (Also, Rippling Tweakage is my new indie band name.)

Great ideas are great, but there is no Great Idea that fixes everything without a lot of work. If the Idea is Great Enough, the work, while frustrating, is also a process of simplification. If it’s a Mediocre Idea masquerading as Great, or even just a Garden-Variety Idea Of Some Magnitude But Hardly Greatness, well, booze cabinets and brick walls, or whatever coping mechanism works for you, STAT. It doesn’t make the Rippling Tweakage any easier, but it can dull the gnawing pain between your temples somewhat.

…I just looked at that last sentence and cannot believe I typed that. Some days, I really love my job.

Over and out!

Posted from A Fire of Reason. You can also comment there.

Crossposted to the Deadline Dames. Check us out!

The Dames have been answering a lot of questions lately, and I’m going to join the fun. I often get emailed the same questions by a number of different people at once; they seem to come in waves. Here are the three questions about writing I’ve been asked by more than five people in the last two weeks, and my answers. Enjoy!

* How do you get your ideas/How do you know if an idea is good enough for a book/What do you do when you don’t have an idea of what to write? (And various permutations thereof.)

I get asked this in spates, usually about every three months. It kind of puzzles me.

Ideas are not the problem. The discipline to sit down and finish something is the problem. Being worried about “not having ideas” is kind of like living in the Pacific Northwest and being worried there isn’t enough mold. If there’s one thing I’ve never had to worry about, it’s a paucity of shiny things to mentally play with. If you’re reading this, you’re a thinking monkey with an actively-producing-ideas few pounds of meat inside your skull; if you want to be a writer, you always have ideas swarming around inside said skull screaming to get out. There are ideas lurking in your kitchen junk drawer, in the face of every passerby, in every daydream or what-if question. Believe me, the there are enough ideas around to keep everyone busy until the sun explodes, and we won’t even have scratched the surface.

How do you know if an idea is “good enough”? Short answer: You don’t. Longer answer: You don’t until you attempt it. After a few years of constantly attempting stories, you can develop a feel for those ideas that have some meat and legs to them, weight and heft and complexity enough for a short story or a novella, or a novel entire, or a series. You also learn, in the course of those attempts, how to scratch below the surface of a story and discover the complexity in even the simplest of ideas. This can only be learned by doing, like so much else in this line of work.

As for “not having an idea of what to write”…I have never understood that. Is that an attempt to resuscitate the old canard of writer’s block? (There’s a cure for that.) Is it saying “I have so many ideas I can’t pick one?” That’s time-wasting, and a way for your Inner Censor to keep you chasing your own tail. Pick one and go. Is it saying “I don’t want to sit down day after day and do the boring typing?” Well, okay, but that defeats the purpose of being a writer, doesn’t it? Writers write. It doesn’t matter what you write, it matters THAT you write, and if you “can’t find” an idea, the problem isn’t with writing or the ideas. The problem is not opening your eyes and seeing the crowd of ideas that’s screaming “PICK ME! OOOH, PICK ME!” You can go to a mall or a casino and people-watch, you can open up your kitchen drawers, you can watch a few random scenes from a movie or listen to some random songs on shuffle. The genesis of story idea is usually a “What if/Why…” question, and getting into the habit of asking yourself “what if” and “why” about things is sort of the magic set of goggles that will allow you to see that invisible crowd.

* I am a new/young writer, do you have any advice?

This is an every-six-months sort of question. I’ll get twenty of them in a row every half-year, usually for summer and winter breaks. I kind of want to do a form letter to send back saying “Yes. And yes. And yes. I can only add: pay attention, and do the work.”

* “How much research do you do?”

Every month I get one of these. Short answer: a LOT. Longer answer: well, everything I read is research, every movie I watch is research, every new song I find is research, every time I cook it’s research. All things feed the work. If you’re asking me how many or how few hours of research go into each book, I can’t tell you.

For example, some of the things I researched for the Valentine series included: leaf springs (for hovers), ballistics, brushing up on human and canine anatomy and physiology, the geography of Prague, the battle of Blackbird Fields, legends of the Nephilim, the Goetia, demonology, friction, strata, relative weight of a dotanuki, ethical systems–and other things, too varied to count. The research ranged from simple questions that were answered in a few minutes by looking something up to month-long binges of reading in a particular subject, strip-mining everything I could lay my hands on. I probably research less than most authors of historical fiction, who go deeply into their chosen era, but I range pretty widely. I’m more a magpie researcher; everything I pick up goes into the storeroom and moulders into a fertile sludge there. Your mileage may vary, but I am (as is pretty evident here) a big believer in creative ferment, and in everything that goes into my head serving some sort of purpose, even if only as ballast.

So there you have it, three questions I’ve received numerous times over the last few weeks. I expect a new crop by the turn of the year…

Posted from A Fire of Reason. You can also comment there.

lilithsaintcrow: (Default)
( Dec. 7th, 2011 04:13 pm)

Crossposted to the Deadline Dames, where there are contests, prizes, Readers on Deadline, and demons. But don’t worry. We have the demons under control. Mostly…

“Do you ever take a day off?” a health professional asked me today. “Do you ever take a vacation?”

“Not often,” I replied. “I can’t go for very long without writing. It itches under my skin, the words have to get out. It’s physically uncomfortable.”

“But everyone needs some time off.”

“I guess. Sometimes I just look through and tighten what I did the day before. That means I only write about 200 fresh words, sometimes, but it’s tweaking and tightening everything else that scratches the itch.”

“Weekends too?”

“Weekends too. Except then I get up and wander away to spend time with the kids, then come back when they’re done.” I paused. She was looking at me in a most peculiar manner. “I’m not crazy, I just like my job.”

I’m the picture of health, actually, other than some anemia. My pulse is a nice even 60 per minute, my blood pressure is extraordinarily low because of the running, and I’m reasonably fit. The bloodwork says my liver is healthy, for which I give a great deal of credit to that glass of red wine with dinner. (You’ve got to stretch those cells out, keep ‘em flexible.) But all of a sudden she’s looking narrowly at me.

I’m not crazy. I just don’t take a lot of time off. My job is a vacation, for heaven’s sake. Each day I get to do the thing I was designed and built for. It lowers my stress to sit down and write.

I’m between books right now. Kind of. I have some revisions staring at me, but I am coyly refusing to return their gaze. (We’re in the let-the-edit-letter-rest section of revisions.) After the crunch of three books at once earlier in the year (who else was seriously questioning my sanity? OTHER than my writing partner, editor, and agent? Why, that would be ME. Anyway.) I deliberately built a little bit of time into my schedule to decompress. But am I lying about on some tropical beach? Hell no. Sand would get into my laptop.

I’m writing. A trunk novel about zombies, a cowboy, a schoolmarm, and a gold claim. Not to mention vampires and a pawnshop and chartermages. I am having a ball with it. Nobody will ever read it, of course, I don’t think it would ever sell…but I like it. I giggle with glee every time I open the document. I wriggle with joy at a neat turn of phrase. I outright chortle every time I throw another obstacle in the sheriff’s way.

This is a vacation, dammit. And the little dopamine glows I get from, say, a well-turned phrase or the wordcount reached for the day just reinforce it. I get a reward each time I sit down to write. Yeah, some times it’s like chipping hardened cheese out of wooden scrollwork, but there’s even some joy in that. In a job well done and polished at the end of the day.

Slight digression: I advocate daily writing because it builds discipline, not because I happen to get a glow from it. Some professionals can take a few weeks between books, or need to refill the well with time spent away, or days when they’re not dragging the words out into the ring and making them dance. (Isn’t that a lovely mental image.) That’s perfectly okay–one size does not fit all. And yet I advocate daily writing, and will continue to do so, because it’s very easy to mistake laziness or fear for the much more pleasant-sounding “needing some time off” or “vacation.” The professionals who take time off know that it’s hard to get back up onto the horse, and they have their own tips and tricks for doing so. YMMV.

“I hated writing in school,” she said, finally, taping the cotton ball over the bright tear of blood on my inner arm. “Your job sounds like my idea of torture.”

“Likewise.” I grinned. You’re sticking needles in me. I would be unhappy if I had to do that all day. “If I had to do what you do I’d go mad. Well, madder than I already am…”

“I don’t think they’ll commit you just yet,” she laughed.

But I got out of there quickly anyway. You never can tell.

And now, back to scratching the itch…

This Saturday I’m at the Author Faire at C2C books in Battle Ground! Also, check out the Hedgewitch Queen–my first e-only release, and $2.99 in the US for the entire month of December.

Posted from A Fire of Reason. You can also comment there.

“SHIT!” I screamed, as I skidded around the corner into my kitchen from the garage. “NO NO NO! NOOOOO!”

The squirrel wasn’t listening. The dog, attached to the couch, was barking hysterically.

When we last saw Neo, he had voiced his battlecry and flung himself into my unprotected house. This was a fine way for the goddamn rodent to repay me for not leaving him in the road to die. Gratitude may be a virtue, but I really am beginning to think it’s one this little asshole doesn’t possess.

Several thoughts flash through one’s head when one has inadvertently let a demonic tree-rat into one’s house. Let me see if I can list them in some kind of coherent order.

Read the rest of this entry » )

Posted from A Fire of Reason. You can also comment there.

First, the serious: Jim C. Hines on reporting sexual harassment in the SFF community. The comments also mention Gavin de Becker’s The Gift of Fear, which I also can’t recommend enough.

Then, the fun! Would you like to win a signed (in the US) or free (outside the US) copy of my just-released Angel Town? Or a copy of fellow Dame Keri Arthur’s Darkness Rising? Or would you, perchance, like a $15 Amazon gift certificate? Would you?

Well, you’re in luck! Just head over to the Deadline Dames’ latest Release Day Giveaway. All you have to do to get a chance to win is comment there. The Dames, we believe in making it easy to win.

We’re cool like that.

While you’re there, you can also find tons of other cool things, like the Readers on Deadline contests and helpful writing/publishing advice. And as soon as we figure out how to give out pie over the Internet, we’ll probably do that too.

Because we’re Dames. And Dames rock.

Posted from A Fire of Reason. You can also comment there.

lilithsaintcrow: (Default)
( Sep. 14th, 2011 12:31 pm)

Over at the Deadline Dames today I talk about what I do when I’m not writing. Also, I told you guys I was going to get another tattoo, I did.

Unfortunately, the other news around here is that the Little Prince brought home a summer cold, and it’s one of those stupid ones that lingers in the back of the throat, tasting like Pine-Sol. Just enough snot to be icky, but not enough to really justify staying in bed, and feeling like you’ve been hit by a truck.

Yeah. Like that.

So, I’m going to go pour more hot tea and cool water down my throat, load up on vitamin C, and get back in the game tomorrow. Or, if not back in the game, at least within kicking distance of the board.

See you then.

Posted from A Fire of Reason. You can also comment there.

Crossposted to the Deadline Dames, where there’s tons more writing advice, contests, and pie! (Okay, maybe no pie.) Check us out!

Every once in a while, I like to sit down and think of about five things to make a post. Since I’m exhausted and stare-eyed after a long, very busy week that went straight through the weekend without even pausing to nod, I see this as a very good strategy for today. So, without further ado, here’s Five Things Writing Will Teach You, Or, Valuable Skills Learned By Telling Lies For A Living.

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Posted from A Fire of Reason. You can also comment there.

lilithsaintcrow: (Default)
( Jul. 13th, 2011 06:56 pm)

Crossposted to the Deadline Dames, where there are giveaways. And advice. And pie. Check us out!
I was raised to (by and large) obey unquestioningly.

Jesus. Stop laughing. I’m serious.

Read the rest of this entry » )

Posted from A Fire of Reason. You can also comment there.

I’m under huge copyedit crunch, but it’s my day to post at the Deadline Dames. So, in honor of the occasion (if by “occasion” one means “feeling like my head is going to explode and that would be welcome because I would be DEAD and not worrying about these GODDAMN things”) here’s Five Bits of (Maybe Useless) Advice About Being a Working Writer:

5. No matter how much you love your book, be prepared to get sick of it. After at least two (sometimes as many as five or six or God forbid more) drafts, at least one (but likely more) revision letter(s), copyedits where some poor soul goes through and checks every damn comma, and proof pages where you search for typos, dropped words, and stets that didn’t make it through, you will become so fucking sick of this book you will want to stab it, pour petrol on it, light it, and stamp on it while singing a stabby-burny song and mutilating it afresh with your red-hot spurs of discontent. This is normal. If you can’t handle hating your own work or getting so sick of a project you literally want to put your fist through a brick wall (or someone’s head), this is not the career for you. Every goddamn job has aspects you won’t like. Finding the way to make them palatable is how we amuse the gods (and each other, most often on reality TV).

4. Your editor, your copyeditor, the Marketing folks, and the Production department are NOT your enemies. Your editor will tell you that parts of the work are weak and need to be fixed. Your copyeditor will make you feel like a goddamn fool by catching every punctuation error you ever thought of committing, plus a few you don’t even know how the hell happened. The Marketing folks will rub you the wrong way with cover copy, cover design, too much or too little publicity (or too much of the wrong publicity, or too little of the right publicity, or some other damn thing). Production will give you short turnaround dates, or piss you off in some way over something. This is normal. Working with other people is a goddamn hassle.

Get over it.

Editor, copyeditor, Marketing, Production–they have one goal. That is to make this book they’re working on right now the best book it can be. They are in the trenches at your side. They are your buddies, your comrades, your platoon. They may get on your nerves, but they are looking out for you the best way they know how, especially when the bullets come flying. It’s a feather in their caps when your book goes well. No matter how pissed off you are, remember they are not your enemies, that their priority is to make your book shine as much as it can, and they may see things you don’t. Don’t fire on them.

3. Sometimes you’ve got to turn the goddamn Internet off. Need I say more? I love Freedom. It was the best $10 I ever spent for my productivity.

What’s that? You in the back? What? But what if I need to research something while the Internet’s off? Mark it in the manuscript with a [[ thing I need to research ]] and move on. Get past it, and when you’re on the Net again, then look it up and search for [[ or ]] in your manuscript. Getting dragged into looking up the sex habits of Arctic flesh-eating bacteria is a slippery, slippery slope, my friends. You could lose days on that shit. (Or so I’ve heard.)

2. Decide on your stress tolerance early. Someone once told me that everyone has a certain tolerance for stress, and even if they arrange their lives to hit below that threshold, they will create shit to stress over until they hit the level they’re geared toward. “You don’t lower your stress,” he continued, staring into his bourbon. “You lower your tolerance.” Which was great advice, and I wish I’d thought to write down his phone number. Because he was pretty good-looking too, and he had a nice leather jacket.

Ahem. Anyway. Look not at your stress, young Padawans. Look at your tolerance, and see if you’re creating more stress for yourself by fretting over some aspects of your writing/writing career/whatever. Then start interrupting the stress-wave before it starts to build. Get up and dance, or something, scream at your computer, go for a skydive. Whatever works.

1. Give yourself some tiny rewards. I bargain with myself so often, it’s like I’m fricking Mephistopheles on crack trying to damn myself. “Set the timer. Ten minutes, and I can read the latest Girl Genius.” Or, “Fifteen more minutes, then you can roll on the floor with the dog and pretend you’re a poodle.” Or, “Another half-hour, and you can have a handful of Fritos.” Or, “Okay, Lili, if you get to 3K words, you can take the kids out for dinner so you don’t have to cook.” Or, “Get fifty pages of proofs out of the way and you can spend twenty minutes on Twitter making yourself look like an idiot.”

Hey, whatever works.

To consistently produce, I trick myself in a hundred little ways. I make it a game. I know my propensity for procrastination, but I don’t try to stop procrastinating–that’s impossible, and sets up a bound-to-fail diet mentality. Instead, I make the game all about rewarding myself for steady increments of work. I try to outwit myself. A certain amount of dragging my feet is necessary creative fuel, a sort of counterweight to my urge to go full speed ahead until I turn into a flaming wreck. Also, I enjoy the challenge of finding little ways to hoodwink myself, kind of like only focusing on the next three minutes on the treadmill. Each three-minute chunk adds up, and before I realize it I’ve run five miles.

So, give yourself teensy rewards. It really is all about tricking yourself into consistency.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve lingered long enough. I promised myself that if I could get this post written, I’d have earned a square of choco before I dive back into the copyedits. (See what I did there? SEE?)

Good luck, kids. Over and out.

Posted from A Fire of Reason. You can also comment there.

Holy moly, was last night intense. As usual, Peter H. and Milo and the rest of the crew at Cedar Hills Crossing Powell’s made everything run smoothly, and the crowd was amazing! (Special thanks to my inimitable writing partner, who did the driving for me.) Ilona and Gordon were Fabulous with a capital Fab, and Dame Devon was, as usual, gracious, prepared, supportive, and just all-around fantastic. I was not arrested or thrown out. Everyone wins!

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, Lili, shut up and get to the damn pictures. Okay.

Read the rest of this entry » )

Posted from A Fire of Reason. You can also comment there.

Crossposted to the Deadline Dames, where there are more contests, writing advice, and pie than you can shake a stick at. Check us out!

Heaven’s Spite has been nominated for an award over at Fourth Day Universe. Go vote, if the spirit moves you. Also, there’s a giveaway for Defiance over at SmartPop. Big fun!

I’ve had to shift gears and do a last round of nitpicky revising on a book, as well as putting together a dedication, acknowledgements, a map of fictional countries, and a whole series bible so I can write the second in a duology without my head exploding. It used to be I kept all the details in my head, but with three books due before the end of the year I need that bandwidth for other things. Like remembering to feed and wash myself. Seriously, I’ll take care of everyone else in the house (even the cats) and somehow forget to brush my own teeth. It’s maddening.

This brings up something I wish a lot of aspiring writers would absorb: getting the manuscript accepted is NOT the end of your job. Oh, no. Even getting to the place where your editor says, “Okay, this is good, I’ll transmit it to production!” is not the end of the road. Not by a long shot, cupcake.

Let me give you an example. Let’s pick Reckoning, the upcoming final book of the Strange Angels series. Let’s count how many steps in the process I’ve gone through so far.

* Initial draft, about 68K words. Took me about six months, mostly because I had proof pages, copyedits, and other books due at the same time.

* Zero draft, another month and a half. Clocking in at about 72K; scenes added and other tweaks.

* Waiting for editorial letter. Editorial letter comes. Beat head against wall, give letter a week to stew, reopen it and decide it’s not that bad. First revision. Add another month.

* First revised draft, about 76K. Still needs some things, I can’t see where they are, I’m too close to the book.

* Wait for second editorial letter. Second editorial letter comes. Beat head against wall, give letter a week to stew, reopen it and decide it’s not that bad. Second revision.

* Second revised draft, about 78K. Still not right. Add a month and a half.

* Third revised draft, clocks in at 82K, add another month or two. By this point I have lost track of time and I HATE THIS BOOK.

* Fourth revised draft, done at white heat. Now we’re there. 88K words, and I am sick of each and every one of them. There may have been another editorial letter or a marked-up paper draft (always what I prefer) in there, I can’t remember. The fear and loathing boiling in my cerebellum won’t let me.

* Finally editor says “BACK AWAY FROM THE GODDAMN BOOK.” Only she says it very nicely as she works it free of my jaws, as if taking a dead toy out of a terrier’s mouth without exciting the little beast even more. She also is probably hoping I’ve had my shots, because that foam around my mouth is troubling.

* Wait while working on other books, anywhere from three to four months.

* Copyedits come. I would tell you more about the joy that is copyedits, but that’s (say it with me) another blog post. Anyway, this requires reading the whole book over again, looking at every single change the CE made, and letting the change go or scrawling STET. This takes time. This is the last moment I have for any large changes, since changes at the next stage–the proof pages–are time-consuming and expensive. I have to look at every. single. word. And every. single. change. If I want to stet a change, I need to have a good reason for doing so. If the copyeditor has tried to change my first-person colloquialisms to Exact Third-Person Grammar I need to catch it and stet it every time. This requires an entirely different set of mental muscles than writing OR revising.

* Send copyedits back to editor. Self-tranquilise in whatever fashion one can. No, I will NOT tell you what I did to ease the pain. (I would, maybe, but I can’t remember. The pain has given me amnesia.)

If one counts the copyedits as a draft, that’s five of them, with a significant increase in complexity and density in the story each time. (I tend to write very lean on the zero and first drafts anyway.) Normally I don’t have more than two drafts, but those two take just as much time as the four above. Then there’s copyedits for every book.

But I am not done. Oh, no, darling.

No, next will come the proof pages–where I receive a hardcopy of what the pages will look like in the actual book. I go through by hand, catch any stets that didn’t make it through production, look for dropped words, typos, etc. While I do that, a professional proofreader also looks over another copy, but they won’t be able to tell about the little fiddles and tweaks I want in this last stage. This takes a while, and then I send the hardcopy with my notations back to my editor. (For some reason, I cannot proof effectively in PDF. It just doesn’t work.) Plus there’s the dedication and acknowledgements to worry over, fights about whether or not the damn thing needs a glossary, appendices if applicable, and not a few nights of me laying in bed thinking that I could have done something, anything, about the book better.

Then it’s a wait of five months to a year until the book actually hits the shelves, during which I am hard at work on other projects in varying stages of completion. By the time an actual honest-to-goodness Reader gets to see the book, my traumatised brain is beginning to recover from the whole thing, and I’d much rather talk about the books I’m working on now.

My point (and yes, I do have one) is that very few aspiring authors take this part of the process into account. Very few of them actually think past the “IT GOT SOLD! I GOT THE SIGNING CHEQUE! WHEE!” part to the grinding slog of work you need to plan energy and time for after that particular high point. It ends up being an unpleasant surprise, and I’ve seen not a few new authors implode under the stress of the copyedit stage in particular. If you really, truly want to get a book published, you need to be prepared for this. Finishing a draft is the least of your milestones–albeit the one milestone that everything else in the process depends on.

Doesn’t that sound like joy? Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Over and out.

Posted from A Fire of Reason. You can also comment there.

lilithsaintcrow: (Default)
( Apr. 20th, 2011 01:15 pm)

That’s right, yesterday was the official launch of the fourth in the Strange Angels series, Defiance. I celebrated with Episode 2 of my podcast, Ragged Feathers. But that wasn’t nearly enough celebration, so today, I’m giving books away!

What you can win: There will be four (4) winners. I will be giving away three (3) signed copies of Defiance (note: if you’re outside the US, I will have to send books to you through BookDepository instead, sorry about that.) ONE lucky winner will get a set of all Strange Angels books so far–Strange Angels, Betrayals, Jealousy, Defiance–again, signed if you’re in the US, sent through BookDepository if you’re not.

What you do: In the comments of this post over at the Deadline Dames, you’ve got to tell me the best piece of trivia you ever found. I’m not talking about the most arcane, or the one you think will impress other people. I’m talking about that useless fact you found that made you deeply happy, made your socks roll up and down and your pants fly off. The winners will be picked with the help of; if the random spits out a comment number that has no trivia I’ll pick another. Remember, you must go to the Deadline Dames post to comment in order to win!

Ready? GO!

Posted from A Fire of Reason. You can also comment there.

lilithsaintcrow: (Default)
( Mar. 9th, 2011 01:45 pm)

Crossposted to the Deadline Dames. Check us out!

Also, the complete Dante Valentine omnibus is now officially released!


I think it was Flaubert who kept rotten apples in a desk drawer. He would open the drawer, lean over, and take a deep whiff to evoke autumn.

Everyone’s got their something.

Ritual and habit: the best of slaves, the worst of masters. The habit of sitting down and getting your hands on the keyboard can take you through when your discipline is faltering, but your habit of “needing” to catch a particular television show can interfere with your writing time. The habit of consistently saving and backing up your work can save your cookies, but the habit of surfing the Net during writing time can cut your productivity by an order of magnitude.

To little people, the world is a big and scary place, and rituals are comforting. To bigger people, social rituals–weddings, funerals, what have you–serve as social glue, give a framework for celebration, and provide closure. To practicing witches or occultists, ritual is a way to build a trigger allowing you to step into another psychic “space.” Human beings love rituals. We can’t get enough of them. Left to ourselves, we’ll make a ritual out of anything. Even the abstraction of writing.

There are two varieties of Things You Need To Learn To Have A Shot At Being A Working Writer–two species, if you will. I call them the two currents. One is the method of swimming against, the other is finding the best way to swim with. Ritual and habit help with both.

We’re very fond of swimming against. The idea that all we need is a little willpower and some hard work is a very intoxicating one with a lot of cultural weight behind it. The whole diet and self-help industries, for example, are largely built on the notion that if you just have enough willpower you can “fix” yourself. (That brings up a rant, but that’s–say it with me–another blog post.) The Puritans thought enough hard work and repression could fix just about anything, and we are heirs to that obsession. For some things it works very well, and for some short-term creative endeavours it’s a godsend. Sometimes, the sheer stubbornness of swimming against has taken me through several ticklish situations, especially that one memorable 48-hour revision stint. (I was unwashed and a very cranky cupcake afterward, let me tell you.) I have nothing against the swimming against. It’s just not the only way, and for a lot of things it’s not terribly efficient either.

Swimming with, on the other hand, is the process of taking one’s own laziness and habits and making them work for you. An essential part of a writer’s career is learning to manage one’s laziness in the most efficient way. Human beings like habit because it’s easy. The needle slips into the groove, we slide into the track, and a significant amount of effort vanishes. We can just follow the groove. The initial investment of making a habit is swimming against; the payback is when the habit has become a groove and we’re kept in it without much effort on our part.

This is why every writer needs a working knowledge of how to build a habit, what constitutes a ritual, and the borders of their own laziness. This working knowledge can’t just sit there, it has to work. In other words, the writer needs to do something with it.

Building a habit takes anywhere from four days to a month of doing the same thing, whether it’s smoking a cigarette at 10pm, peeing in the shower, reading for a half-hour before bed, or picking one’s nose. Or carrying a notebook everywhere, jotting down dialogue on your lunch break, eating the same pastrami on rye for twenty years, tapping the dashboard when you go through a yellow light, or knocking on wood. Rest assured, most of your day is made up of habits. Gurdjieff swore people live in a sort of waking sleep, robotic. He’s probably right, only I don’t think you have to work yourself to exhaustion to be granted a taste of consciousness. I think habits are a grand thing–I mean, I like that my heart has the habit of beating–and the gift we have is the ability to choose a few habits all on our own.

A ritual is a set of actions. (The actions may have a religious or social meaning, yes, let’s not get bogged down.) One of my rituals when I finish a very emotionally draining scene is to get up and walk around the room I’m in, clockwise. It leaves the scene in the story where it belongs, instead of it leaking agony inside my head. I often touch the statue of Ganesh on my writing desk when I’m about to start a new story. The plum tree in my back yard gets a cup of milk the first day I notice it’s bloomed. I read an edit letter once, then scream and stamp and throw it across the room; a week later I go back and find out it’s not really that bad. (That’s a ritual of processing, right there.)

To get your habits to work for you, first you have to figure out what habits you have. The easiest way to do this is to try to start a new habit. Do one thing at a specific time for four days in a row, and each time you do it, write it down. If this is hard to do, if you keep forgetting, take a look at what habit you might be inadvertently cutting across. Bingo, you’ve found one. Once you’ve practiced this process a few times, you’ll start spotting habits everywhere. You can’t change what you can’t see–spotting your habits is the first step.

Here’s a secret: it is much easier to replace a habit than it is to lose one. I call this the Addiction Theory of Self-Change, with varying degrees of tongue-in-cheek. I know several people who have substituted playing with a pen or pencil or chopstick or what-have-you at all times for smoking, which seems to work okay until stressors pile up. I myself have substituted working a heavy bag for self-injury for years. Currently I’m trying to substitute deep breathing for my obsessive email-checking. (We’ll see how that one works out.) If you can’t break a habit, work it around by degrees until you’ve replaced it with a better one.

Rituals are a little different. I always end my books with the same finis. I always sit and stare for a few moments after I’ve typed it, while the engine in my brain slips its traces and starts the rebound process. I always do the same things on a release day–no, I will not tell you what they are. When a well-loved book gives up its ghost and its pages, I give it a funeral and a proper burial. I have rituals that hedge in each day’s writing sessions, and each time I perform them I am reinforcing the little click inside my brain, the shift over to another mode of being. The rituals have changed as my writing space has changed–for example, when I was writing in the middle of the night in the bathroom while a boy slept in the bed my ritual was very different than the sitting down ritual I perform nowadays.

There are Speshul Snowflakes who use habit and ritual as excuses not to write. “I can’t write if I don’t have X!” they wail. Bullshit. Your habits and rituals are here to work for you, not the other way around. It’s not “I CAN’T write,” it’s “I WON’T write.” Fine, if you don’t want to, don’t. Be a Beethoven Blonde. It’s your life.

Swimming with is easier in that it takes advantage of one’s natural propensities instead of fighting them. The drawback is that it’s easy to slip under the surface of the habits you’ve created, and not take notice of changing conditions. Keeping the swimming in either direction balanced is a little tricky. You need the swim against to cut across the grain every once in a while and figure out if the current you’re surfing is really taking you where you want to go, or if you need to nudge it by a couple degrees and find a slightly-new groove to slip into.

And now that I’ve beaten that metaphor to death, it’s time for me to engage in the private ritual marking the beginning of yet another revision. (Two points if you guessed it involves a fair amount of swearing.)

Over and out.

Posted from A Fire of Reason. You can also comment there.

Crossposted to the Deadline Dames, where there is even more advice, and giveaways too!

It’s Friday again. How on earth did that happen? Before we get started, here’s Philip Pullman: “Leave the libraries alone. You don’t understand their value.

There are a couple new-this-week interviews with me, one at Reading Awesome Books, and another over at CJ Redwine’s place, where I am interviewed by Captain Jack Sparrow. You can also enter to win a signed set of the first three Strange Angels books at CJ’s until Sunday.

It’s time for another in my ongoing series about writing combat scenes. So you’ve figured out why you want to beat the snot out of your characters, and you’ve got a grasp on the reason, stakes, and cost. Now it’s time to write the damn scene.

The bad news is, writing a combat scene is just like writing any other damn scene. It requires your ass in the chair and your hands on the keyboard. The not-so-bad news is that the key to combat scenes is revising; but in order to revise you must have a chunk of original text to tweak. The good news is that there are ways to make it easier, and if you’re reading this, chances are you’ve watched enough action movies to have some idea of how to visualize a good combat scene.

The usual disclaimers (every writer’s process is unique, some of this advice may not work for you, your mileage may vary, beverage you are about to enjoy is extremely hot) apply. Given that, here’s a few things that may help while you’re writing a combat scene.

* Research, research, research. I like research. Plus, it can save one from making embarrassing mistakes. Research can be: reading a forensic pathology study guide, or a guide on combat psychology and physiology; going to the range and taking some handgun classes to understand just what it feels and sounds like to fire a gun; swinging a dress-metal katana in your backyard as you work out a fight in your head; asking a hobbyist about their passion for stamps/kung fu/military history; interviewing a cop/firefighter/martial artist. Most people love to talk about themselves and their passions or their jobs. A writer can learn a lot by listening, and buying a few drinks. There’s also the Internet, which one can use as a research tool only if one applies a strenuous bullshit test to every piece of information found on it. You get the idea.

The danger with research is that you can mistake it for the actual work of writing. I’m a magpie for knowledge–my TBR stack is actually an overflowing bookcase, and I’m always on the lookout for new and interesting little facts and connections. I’ve fallen into the trap of getting so interested in a small research question for a book that I’ve lost a day or two to chasing down more and more about a subject, finally blinking and looking up and giving myself a good headsmack. Be open to serendipity, but give your research boundaries. And always, always, go about it safely. I do NOT recommend going out and getting into fights just to see if it’s true that they hurt. That’s stupid and dangerous. Please just take my word for it.

* Blocking. I found out about scene blocking in high school. I wasn’t in drama–I wasn’t pretty enough for the drama teacher to have as a protege–but I was an extra in a play or two, and the concept of blocking out a scene felt very natural to apply to combat scenes. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been out in the backyard (or in the field that used to be behind my house) swinging around a dress-metal katana or cracking a bullwhip at a pile of something, blocking out a fight in my head. Something about the physical movement gives the visual inside my skull pegs to hang on, and informs them with a great deal of immediacy for me.

If you are concerned about looking like an idiot while doing that, you’re just going to have to let go of that. I love ballet, but I had terrible anxiety in class until my teacher said, “Nobody is looking at you funny. Everyone else in here is worrying about their movements. I am watching, but even I can’t watch you all the time, and I’m watching you in order to teach you. So relax. Everyone else here is worrying about the size of their legs too.” By and large, nobody’s watching. If they are, well, you can just tell them you’re a writer.[1]

* Music. Music is a very integral part of my creative process. To get myself in the mood for a Kismet fight scene, for example, I would often listen to the Cure’s Wrong Number with my eyes closed, watching Jill clear a hellbreed hole. I play certain songs for certain scenes, and I spend a lot of my morning runs in what seems to be a trancelike state, the music accompanying scenes inside my head while my body’s occupied with running one mile after another.

* Sensory cues. Most fights are chaos. Tunnel vision happens when an average person gets adrenaline really going. These two things can make it difficult for a writer to tease out how to describe a combat scene. Blocking the scene out will help immeasurably, but once you have, get some detail on the page. Tell me how the blood tastes, that the punch to the gut huffed all your air out and brought your dinner up in an acid rush, that the sound of the damned screaming as bullets plowed through their unholy flesh was a chorus of glassine despair. Don’t worry that you’re giving too much–that’s what revision is for. Get as much sensory detail as you can into the fight scene so you can pick the best of it later. Here is where the ability to visualize is worth all the practice you can give it–and if you have trouble visualizing, find the sense you have the least trouble using. Some people are auditory writers, some are tactile; I’m very visual and olfactory. (Writing about death and decay sometimes makes me physically ill, since I smell what my characters do.)

Training yourself to go into a story like this strikes directly at the heart of what most of us are told when we’re kids–to stop daydreaming, to pay attention, to not space out. It’s a balance, like so much about this writing gig. Keen observation and paying attention are necessary (and they can’t hurt when you’re trying to cross a street or walking in a bad part of town); finding that little “click” and stepping into the hallucinatory space of daydreaming a story, that focused creative state, is necessary as well. You need both in order to do this well, so practice both; they will feed and inform each other in startling ways.

* Get in and get it done. I don’t leave the keyboard in the middle of a combat scene unless there’s an immediate physical emergency. Sex scenes, dramatic scenes, bridging scenes I can all walk away from, and sometimes I even let sex scenes marinate a couple days. (Again, YMMV.) But a combat scene depends on me sitting down, having it clear in my head, and getting out a chunk of text. Knowing the reason, stakes, and cost before I go into it helps.

These sessions are usually the ones that leave me soaked in sweat or shivering, adrenaline copper on my tongue and my body aching in sympathy for my hero/ine. These are also the scenes where the house could quite probably burn down around me and I might not notice unless I had to rescue children or cats. I am not quite deaf to the world during them, but it’s close. I like this, it’s one of the perks of writing as a career. But if I get up in the middle of it and go away, I lose steam and sometimes it’s hard to find the hook to get back into the fight. I get exhausted if I stop or slow down. (Or, God forbid, use the loo. Forget Kegels, writing combat scenes straight through is great practice for one’s perineum. Ah, the glamour of this career!) As an aside, this is related to my practice of not leaving the keyboard at the end of a scene or chapter. For some reason, I find it easier to regain momentum if I have even just a couple throwaway lines to begin the next chapter/scene before I walk away from the writing.

* Have fun. Fighting in real life is deadly serious. It is a last resort, not to be engaged in unless one or one’s loved one is in direct dire physical danger. But fighting in fiction is fun. Action movies are fun to watch. Writing a combat scene, especially one in which you can bend the laws of physics a little, is a blast. Yeah, there’s cost and stakes for your character, but you should be having a ball. Don’t forget Steven Brust‘s invaluable little sentence to tack up in your writing space: And now, I’m going to tell you something REALLY cool. You’re telling someone something really goddamn cool. Get into it. Have a ball, have a blast, have some fun. If you aren’t, it’ll be even more difficult for your reader to. You don’t ever want that.

Okay. So, those are things that help you squeeze out the zero draft of a combat scene. But your work isn’t finished yet. Not by a long shot. To really make a combat scene pop, there are specific ways to revise that lovely zero draft of that scene that made you go “ooooh!” We’ll go over those ways next week.

Class dismissed.

[1] I really think this saved me from getting arrested once. (Suffice to say I was blocking out a fight with a dress-metal katana and a cop noticed and bounced his car up into the field. Once I told him I wrote romance, he just laughed and told me to be careful.)

Posted from A Fire of Reason. You can also comment there.

lilithsaintcrow: (Default)
( Jan. 7th, 2011 10:08 am)

Crossposted to the Deadline Dames! There are giveaways and tons of other cool stuff. Check us out!

First, the news! The Jill Kismet series is spotlighted during January over at Barnes & Noble. And I am considering–only considering, mind you–how to turn the Squirrel!Terror chronicles into a paper book. (I have to look at what editing, formatting, and a cover would cost and decide if it’s worth the time investment.) I’ve also spent the last couple weeks talking with Audiobook People about pronunciations for the Valentine series. Tres exciting!

So this morning, I had no idea what I would do for a Friday post. I made the mistake oferm, had the bright thought of asking for questions on Twitter and Facebook. I only have time for two or three answers, so here goes:

* Steelflower and Cover Models. Many of you asked about Steelflower. I appreciate the interest, and there are two more Kaia books in my head. (One deals with Redfist’s homeland; the other deals with G’maihallan under siege.) The problem is, I am contracted pretty tightly for other things. Kaia is on the back burner for the time being.

Many of you also ask me about cover models, for example, the lovely lady featured on the Strange Angels covers. I am not the right person to ask, because I have about as much control over the covers as I do over the weather in Russia. The best way to get that question answered is to ask the publisher, they’ll be more than happy to help you out.

* ARCs. I get tons of requests for Advance Reader Copies. I hate to break it to you, but I don’t generally get ARCs of anything other than the very first in a series, and I normally only get two or three of those. When I do get copies of my books, it’s usually slightly after bookstores get them, or, more often, when bookstores put them on the shelf. I also, as a matter of policy, do not send out e-versions for review. (Blame the e-pirates for this. Seriously.) If you have a review blog, if you want a review copy, please contact the publisher of the series in question. Ask for their marketing department, explain that you’d like to get on the list for review copies, and see what happens.

* Broken stories. The most interesting question was from friend and Reader Monica V:

Might be neat to hear your take on whether or not a story can be “fixed.” I say sometimes? No.

Sometimes yes, sometimes no. It depends on where it’s broken. If it’s a question of the story being too thin to hold up the amount of wordcount you’re expecting, the fix can be turning it into a short, a novella, or a vignette rather than a novel. It can also be a signal that you need more conflict, or you need to discover the deeper conflicts and motivations that are already there.

If it’s a question of one writing oneself into a corner, then the fix is a little harder. If I hit one of these (and believe me, I have) I usually set the story aside, work on something else, and sleep on the problem. Usually, upon waking the next morning, I find my unconscious has been busily chewing over the whole thing and will either present me with a relatively elegant solution that takes into account little details I didn’t remember writing before (always fun) or a less-elegant solution that involves me getting rid of a chunk of text.

If the latter is called for (which is infrequent, thank goodness), here’s a tip: save the chunk you’ve lopped out in a separate file. I title mine “title of work BITS”, and stick it in the same folder with the master draft I’m working on. Sometimes that chunk is just in the wrong place because I got excited; sometimes, with a little alteration, it can be pressed into service elsewhere. Stick it in the graveyard and let it ferment, don’t totally erase it. (And don’t ask me how I learned that unless you’re prepared for a bitter, bitter rant. Heh.)

Of course, this presupposes that a story is truly “broken” instead of laziness or fear being the problem. How can you tell if a story is broken?

This is incredibly difficult, because you are too close to it to see it clearly. The only way to figure out when a story is broken is to have practice in finishing stories, so you can understand your process a little better. Practice will help you distinguish between a truly-broken story (one you cannot write because there is no fixing it) and a story you need to work around (characters without motivations, motivations that don’t make sense, plot holes, plot painted into a corner, characters behaving without rhyme or reason, the list is endless) to find the proper way of telling. Each story is unique, your process is unique, so you are going to have to practice to learn the art of distinguishing “broken”.

Generally, I try to rule out everything else before I decide a story is irretrievably gone. I tend to view a roadblock in a story as a case of user error instead of bad programming, so to speak. To use another analogy, I treat it as if the story is being broadcast, but my decoding of the transmission is off in some way that causes error or, more frustratingly, creep. Once I’ve ruled all that out, and once I’ve banged my head against the wall of the story enough, I’ll either ask for help from my trusty beta, or I’ll move on. There are stories I thought were broken, but when I come back to them on my periodic runs through the graveyard I’ll find out they were actually pretty okay, I just needed time/distance/a little more maturity to successfully deal with them.

Whew. That was a long, circuitous answer. It’s an interesting and difficult question, with many layers. (Like ogres. Or pie.) I’ll probably come back to it later and chew it over some more, but I’ve got to jet.

Tune in next week for talking about fight scenes! That was another question this morning, and one that deserves a whole post to itself…

Over and out.

Posted from A Fire of Reason. You can also comment there.

lilithsaintcrow: (Default)
( Dec. 31st, 2010 12:15 pm)

Crossposted to the Deadline Dames, where it’s a party like it’s 1999 ALL THE TIME!

2010 was a watershed year. ’09 sucked pretty bad, but ’10 has more than made up for it. That’s the thing about learning: it’s sometimes a painful process.

I plan on greeting the New Year sound asleep, actually, because I need sleep more than celebration at this point. For lo, I am old and boring. But, to mark the fact that I made it through another fifty-two weeks and have largely gotten things Under Control and Well Situated, here’s three things I learned about writing in this last year. (Because one can always learn something new about writing, I think.)

* Changing creative fuel doesn’t have to be hard. “Creative fuel” can be different things for different artists. Some writers use emotional drama to fuel their writing. Messy personal lives are a good source of fuel, it’s true–but the cost of using that fuel can make it unsustainable. It can provide an occasional “kick”, too, and I’m a firm believer that there’s no better way to process something than to strip-mine it for material (that car crash in ’06 was priceless, let me tell you) but constantly using conflict or emotional drama as fuel is not a happy cupcake. Letting go of using that fuel is scary–it’s reliable, it’s fast, it plays into the create-more-drama loop, and it’s got a hell of a rocket kick. But one needs longer-term sources of fuel, especially if one wants to have a longer-term career.

The good news is that other sources of fuel are available pretty much by default, and one is already using them, since one can’t write by drama alone. I can categorically insist and promise with a clear conscience that the other fuels are there, they provide just as much kick, and the hangover from using them is way less intense. You don’t have to worry about whether you’ll have Things To Write About or fuel for writing if you move away from the drama. You will have more Things To Write About, and fuel that doesn’t make your life look like a smoking crater afterward. Which is really a pretty good deal.

* Trust the work. This is more in the nature of recovered or confirmed knowledge instead of “new” knowledge, but it bears repeating. I’ve been terrified over the past year that I wouldn’t be able to produce (due to a number of Personal Reasons we won’t go into until I can make the Public Announcement and get it over with) or that if I did, it wouldn’t be my usual quality. “Terrified” is not too strong a word for how much I’ve feared that.

But my editors are happy. They say I’ve actually gotten better. (Readers’ opinions may vary, of course. I’m okay with that.) And I’ve made every deadline and to spare these past two years, no matter what was going on or how I felt about it. The habit of just Sitting The $&#% Down and Doing It has never stood me in such good stead; and I’ve found comfort and solace in the things I’ve finished. Being able to crawl inside another world, one where I have a measure of control and free will that I might otherwise lack, has been a lifesaver. If you commit to the work, it will help you.

* Physical movement helps. Again, more in the nature of “recovered” knowledge here. I hadn’t realized, until I started losing weight, how physical a writer I truly am. Once my body gets over the “Christ what did I do to you, why are you DOING this to me?” moment at the start of every run, I settle into a peculiar meditative state where plots germinate, characters speak, and things just generally shake into place. I’ve come to depend on that time (see, an alternative source of fuel! I’m so sneaky!) as a part of the creative process.

I am not saying you have to run however-many miles in the morning to be creative. Far from. I’m saying to never underestimate the power of some kind of physical movement to shake things free inside your brain. Got a plot tangle? Character giving you trouble? Go for a brisk walk, do some jumping-jacks, put some music on and dance around a bit. More often than not (okay, a ridiculously high percentage of the time) this will shake it loose, make the character behave, take the work in a new direction. Plus, it’s good for you. We tend to forget how physical an act writing truly is. The brute work of typing 60-100K words for a zero draft of a novel (not to mention however many thousands in revision, dear God) is hard on the body. It’s hard on the fine structures of the fingers and wrists, it’s hard on the forearms, sitting for that long is hard on the back and the legs and your core. Moving around is good for you and will help ameliorate the purely-physical cost of writing.

There you have it, three things 2010 taught me about writing. They’re maybe not new things, and other people found them out way before I did. Still, I gained what feels like a greater understanding. And, you know, I’m stubborn. Mostly, people can’t tell me a damn thing. I have to run into it and bark my toes (or other more tender places) before I Figure It Out. Oh well. There’s always next year.

Assuming I want to change that about myself, that is. I’m not so sure. But that’s (say it with me) another blog post.

So, a safe happy New Year’s to you and yours. Enjoy, be responsible, have some fun, and let’s do that time warp again

Posted from A Fire of Reason. You can also comment there.

lilithsaintcrow: (Default)
( Dec. 17th, 2010 10:19 am)

Crossposted to the Deadline Dames.

G’morning! I’ve updated the Strange Angels page for Defiance, and added a page for Taken, my Harlequin Nocturne coming out in February. I’ve been a busy little bee this morning. (I do hope to get a newsletter out by the first of the year, but don’t count on it.) There is all sorts of fantastic news I can’t share yet, but I can say that the busy will not abate. Which is good. I’m happiest when I’m working.

The alternative just doesn’t bear contemplating.

So here I am on another Friday. There’s a lot of work ahead of me today, I can’t stay long, so here’s Three Things That Hopefully Make A Post (two of them questions I’ve been asked lately):

1. How do you make a reader care about a Bad Man/Antihero/Almost-Villain? Well, first you have to be absolutely clear on what the Bad Man’s motivations are. You have to know what his glass of water is. You have to know why they are doing what they’re doing. Then, you need to figure out what the most effective way of getting that why across to the reader. Half the work in making a Bad Man (or Woman, I should add) is getting that understanding; understanding breeds compassion, as I kept saying to a certain Coyote until I was blue in the face. Once we understood Vader was Luke’s dad, a whole lot more about Vader started to make sense and he became much more than a cardboard villain. (I am not even referring to those movies with JarJar. Just…no.) Sit down and make a list of why your Bad Man does the things he does; then decide if you want the reader to care, or to loathe, or both. Then you can write him (or her) effectively.

2. What if you run out of ideas? Look, the world is a smorgasboard. There are stories waiting all around you, just aching to burst into your consciousness. I don’t believe there is any such thing as writer’s block, and I have always seen the world as literally CROWDED with stories. Every car you pass on the freeway, every person on the bus, every light in the city at night, every person you see at the mall or at work or ANYWHERE, has their own story. Thinking “What if?” and “Why?” when you observe the people and things around you is fabulous creative fuel. I will never run out of ideas. Some ideas will not be plausible, some will not be ones I can pull off in novel or short story form, some will be unable to bear the weight of story structure, some I’m just not interested in telling the story around. But running out of them? Nope. Won’t happen.

3. This isn’t a question I’ve been asked, it’s just a thing. I don’t do arbitrary. There isn’t room for arbitrary in stories. You curl your fingers around your swordhilt, you draw and make your cut, and you are either victorious or dead. I do not “throw in” romance because a particular genre “has to have a romance in the book.” I write the story first and worry about what genre it sticks in later. If I’m writing to spec, I pick stories knocking around in my head that tally with the specs. (There’s never any shortage–see #2.) But I do not arbitrarily put stuff in my books. If something’s there, it’s there for a reason. Sometimes that reason is just that I’ve made a choice, simple as that. But it’s not arbitrary. I rather resent the implication that I just throw shit into the books without any care or thought. (As if you couldn’t tell.) Right next to piracy (don’t even get me started), this is a major irritant.

And that’s three things that hopefully make a post. The current round of revisions is eating my head, and the proof pages I’ve got to get done this weekend (days off? What are those? Do they even exist?) are chuckling at me from their pile. Time to strap on the flamethrower and the red pencil and get to work.

Over and out.

Posted from A Fire of Reason. You can also comment there.

lilithsaintcrow: (Default)
( Nov. 19th, 2010 10:18 am)

Crossposted to the Deadline Dames. New shiny!

It’s Friday again. How the hell did that happen?

I’m experimenting with getting up a few hours earlier so I can run, then get the kids off to school and settle down to work. This means I’m up at (wait for it) 5AM. Yeah, you read that right.

The good news will probably be increased productivity. The bad news is that I won’t see the squirrels, since it’s still dark. This morning, however, I was watched by a fiery-eyed possum. It was either trying to figure out what the hell I was doing or gauging how thick the glass was between us. Not sure. This made me nervous, but fortunately I was too worried about being upright and ambulatory before dawn to really fear the possum the way I should. Further bulletins as events warrant.

So last week we talked about my first three process-stages of novel-writing–the Shiny, the Explosion, and the Hole. I’ve saved the last two stages for a separate post because, to me, they are the most frustrating, the most interesting, and the hardest stages to get through.

I’m talking, of course, about the Slog and the Burn.

The Slog comes after the Hole–that part in the writing process where it’s not fun anymore, where I wake up and stare at the novel/short story/poem/essay/whatever and I think, this is total crap, I am total crap, everyone is going to hate this, everyone is going to hate me, I will have to give the advance back and we will all starve and the sun will go out and we’ll all DIE and it will be ALL MY FAULT AUGH. It isn’t rational and it isn’t pretty, and the only way through is putting my head down and plodding on. The Hole is pretty deep and dark even at the best of times, but chipping doggedly away at it gets me past the “OMG this sucks” and into the “DIE stupid book/story/whatever, DIE STABBITY STABBITY.”

It’s a subtle change. I quit focusing on how much the goddamn book sucks and and instead start focusing on just f!cking finishing. It becomes an endurance contest, and I think by now you have some idea of just how stubborn I am on a daily basis. (I mean, if you’re a regular reader. If this is your first time, welcome, and let’s just say a brick wall won’t win in a contest with my silly head. I am congenitally stubborn, and single motherhood has only made me more so.) There are some books I’ve only gotten through because I don’t want to let the goddamn thing win, others I’ve finished because of the habit of daily writing chips through the Hole and the Slog, bit by bit.

You can tell I’m in the Slog when I start joking about the Book That Will Not Die. My writing partner actually had a couple of rubber stamps made for me. (One more reason why she is Teh Awesome.) One says “STET DAMMIT”. The other just says “STABBITY” and I have a pad of red ink for it. There is nothing quite so satisfying during the Slog as printing off a few pages of the work in progress and stamping it all over with blood red ink while chanting “STABBITY!” at the top of my lungs.

Look, we all have different methods. Don’t judge.

Getting through the Slog is not easy. But once I finished a couple novels, both the Hole and the Slog became parts of a process instead of “OMG I am never going to f!cking finish this f!cking thing.” It was a small, crucial, welcome shift in my working attitude. Each time, if I just endured through the Hole and the Slog, I would reach the Burn.

The Burn is the point where a story comes together and my writing sessions become subjectively shorter but objectively longer. I’ll sit down one morning and wake up hours later, blinking and needing the loo pretty badly. I have to remind myself to eat–I’ll sometimes feed the kids and go back to the computer, and wonder why I’m hungry hours later–and force myself to do other maintenance-y type things, like washing myself. I start working at white heat, even faster than during the Explosion phase. All my energies are brought to bear on one single point.

The Burn is, like the Explosion, pure creative crack. But it’s the kind of rush I associate with exercise–a full-body endorphin rush from effort instead of the Explosion’s more passive, cerebral high.

Generally the wordage that comes out during the Burn is very clean and lean, and doesn’t require a lot of editing/revising. Once again I have a head full of story, I almost resent anything that pulls me away from working. I put in marathon sessions–my very high wordcount days are almost always during the Burn. Everything in the book just comes together, including things I’d written earlier that I had no earthly clue how they were going to turn out.

The closest thing I’ve ever seen to a visual representation of the transition between Slog and Burn is the classic domino scene from V for Vendetta. Suddenly everything just…clicks over. I finish the book at a gallop, and the flywheel inside my head is suddenly spinning wildly, all that ramped-up energy with nowhere to go. (This is why a recovery period is so necessary for me after each book; I have got to let that flywheel slow down or it will start smoking and sparking. Not a happy cupcake. But that’s a different post.)

This is why I say it’s critical to get into the habit of writing every day and also critical to finish a couple books before you give up on writing. The habit of writing will pull you through the Hole and the Slog; once you’ve finished a couple books you will have a much clearer idea of your own process that will help make the slogging parts of that process more manageable. The “huh, I’ve done this before” is a razor-thin margin, but sometimes it’s enough space to get a handle on the entire goddamn book so you can beat it to death. (It’s not quite as violent as I make it sound. (I’m just in the Hole part of a short story today. It makes me cranky.)

It does not get easier, per se. But knowing your own process at least places the Hole and the Slog in perspective and makes them more manageable. And really, some days “more manageable” is all one can hope for.

Over and out.

Posted from A Fire of Reason. You can also comment there.

That’s right, it’s the release week for the fifth Jill Kismet book, Heaven’s Spite.

To celebrate, I’ll be giving away three signed copies, over at the Deadline Dames. I regret that I can only ship inside the US, but that’s the way things are. To make it even, I’ll also be giving away a $20 Amazon gift certificate. And what must you do to win these wonderful prizes?

Simple! Just comment on this Deadline Dames post by midnight on Sunday, October 31 (the witching hour on Samhain, even). But not just any old comment, please. You can give your favorite quote, give a Dame a compliment, tell us your favorite Halloween candy or spooky story. The winners will be picked with the help of, and I may pick a special prize for originality. You never can tell.

I’ll announce the winners next Friday, and (I promise! I promise!) will have the long-awaited next Process Post then.

Thank you for reading! I’m very excited that Jill’s next adventures are out in the world.

Posted from A Fire of Reason. You can also comment there.



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