Posts Tagged ‘writing’

Have you ever spent time with that One Friend who always has Problems? Every time you get together, this person is having some kind of crisis, and instead of hanging out and having fun, you’re drafted into fixing whatever it is that’s gone wrong for her. You’re holding her hand, patting her back, assuring her that everything is going to be okay, and the whole time you’re thinking, “Dear god, I gave up time I could have spent napping for this?”

For me, Maddie is that friend.

I like her, don’t get me wrong. Cool chick. But every time I sit down to spend time with her, this woman has Problems, and I have to fix them. Which isn’t really her fault – she didn’t ask to live in the zombie apocalypse, after all – but still. She’s exhausting. Even when I’m not writing about her she’s always there, in the back of my head, bugging me. How am I going to fix her shit? I promised her that things would work out, I’ve been telling her that for two years now, but she still doesn’t have her happy ending. Where is it? How is she getting there? Why am I washing dishes and taking history notes when her WORLD is FALLING APART?

Jesus, Maddie. Sit the hell down.

I needed to take a teensy break from Maddie and her goddamn Issues, is what I’m saying. I met someone new, who has problems but not zombie-level problems, and decided to spend a little bit of time with her instead. So that’s what I’ve been doing for the past two months. It was a nice break, and now that I’ve had it, I feel like I can go back to Maddie and deal with her Problems again. Sometimes that happens, you know? A little break, some fresh perspective, and things don’t seem as hopeless and terrible as they did before. I have a better idea of how to get Maddie where she needs to go, and I’m hoping we’ll get there before the end of the year. It’s been tough on her, too. She’s waited a long time.

Oh, the new friend?


Kiera McKinnley likes to be in control – in the office, the courtroom, and especially in the bedroom. Known to her conquests only as ‘Kay’, Kiera is exceedingly careful to keep her “real” life and her “night” life entirely separate – a precaution that is shattered when she returns home for Christmas to find her latest one-night stand drinking hot chocolate in front of her mother’s tree.

Let me talk a little bit about writing this book. Indulge me for a minute.

As I’ve confessed in the past, I am terrible at outlining. I start out with good intentions, but once I get going I veer off-course, start adding things in, taking things out, and there’s the inevitable moment when I hit a part in the outline where I’ve written nothing. I’ve shown you this before, but I’ll do it again, because really, it highlights how awful my outlines are.

Yeah. “Gap.” Super helpful, self, THANK YOU.

I started looking for a way to solve that little issue, and came across a very awesome book: Take Off Your Pants: Outline Your Books for Faster, Better Writing. If I ever meet the author, Libbie Hawker, it will be embarrassing, and she’ll probably have to call security on me, because this book completely changed how I write. I would erect a church in her name, if that wouldn’t be weird and creepy and also a lot of work.

I couldn’t go back and apply her outlining technique to my current story, because god I’m already 2+ years into it, I’m sorry Maddie, it’s too late for you. But I was kicking around the idea of trying to write a novella, and using this technique seemed like the perfect way to give that a shot.

And that’s how I met Kiera.

I like Kiera a lot. Love her. She’s got most of her shit together, she knows what she wants and goes right on out to get it, and she’s not ashamed of her choices. I would have a beer with Kiera – right before she ditched me to take home some guy at the bar. But she does have one teensy problem: the guy she likes, really really likes, is a little out-of-bounds for her, and so she needs to decide which is more important – what other people think of her, or her own happiness.

I had fun helping her make that decision. Frankly, writing her story was the most fun I’ve had writing anything in years. I’m sure the very long, very detailed outline helped with that – when I sat down to write everything out, I’d already done most of the hard work, and so getting Kiera from A to B was 75% less stressful than any other story I’ve tried to write. And I think the result was a tight, quick, sexy book that I’m very proud of.

So if you want to check that out, it’s available on Amazon right now. Current price is 99 cents, but on December 1 it will go up, so grab it before then. It’s also enrolled in Kindle Unlimited, an experiment that I plan to analyze for any of the writers reading along, so if you have that then you can read it for free.

(I’m actually hoping to break down every part of this process, including marketing, for any would-be or current writers who read here, so if you have questions, something you’d like me to address, please go right ahead and ask.)

Anyway, check out Kiera’s story. And Maddie will be back next week, though she might not be terribly happy about it.

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I don’t remember how old I was when I snuck a peek at my first romance novel.  I don’t remember the title, or the name of the author.  I don’t remember much of anything about the plot.

I do, however, remember the details of the first sex scene I ever read.

The hero character was royalty of some sort – they usually were, in the older novels – and the heroine was not.  The hero character was sexually experienced, and the heroine was not.  The hero character wanted to have sex – and the heroine did not.

So he drugged her.

Okay, that’s not quite true.  He thought about drugging her; he set things up so he could slip her something, something that would cause her pain – pain only an orgasm could relieve.  At the last minute, he backed off on it.  But one of his guards slipped it to her anyway, and gosh darnit, he had no choice but to help her out.  She resisted, at first – until he threatened to let his guards in and have them take care of her in his stead.  Then she gave in, and there was sex.

I haven’t thought about that scene in many years.  Recently it came back to me, and I started musing, not just about the scene, but about the woman who wrote it.  (It was most likely a woman; romance authors usually are.)  What was she thinking when she put that down on paper?  Did she think it was hot?  Was she constrained by the “rape is love” trope that was so huge in that era’s romance novels?  Was she proud of it?  Or did she cringe?

If I tilt my head and squint a little, I can almost see a way that scene could be considered empowering.  The heroine doesn’t want to have sex – not because she doesn’t have the desire, but because her society tells her that she’s wrong and dirty if she does.  The drug takes away her consent – as does that threat of gang-rape by the guards – but it also gives her star billing in the sex scene that follows.  The focus is not on the hero and his pleasure; his sole purpose is to help her, which means bring her to orgasm.  Multiple times.

Don’t get me wrong – I think it’s a fucked up scene.  But I can also see how it was written.

Straightening up, she barely had time to register his arrival when he was on her.  The wall scraped her back as he pushed her against it, his hands in her hair.  She gave a muffled “Oh!” when his lips met hers; his tongue slipped in her mouth, hot and desperate with adrenaline and fear.  When he finally pulled away, she gasped.

When I was younger, a man shoved me up against a wall like that.  I was 18; he was decades older, basically a stranger, someone I sold coffee to once or twice a week.  He’d made my politeness into something other than it was, a delusion that came to its head in the back parking lot of a gas station.  There were complicating factors, things that affected the events that followed, but the upshot is that I testified in court and he went to jail.  Back to jail.  Where, for all I know, he still is.

My husband has tried to grab me like that – one of those passionate, “I have must have you now” embraces.  I don’t melt; I don’t go weak in the knees with lust.  I freeze, like a cornered animal, and wait for him to stop touching me.  That kind of thing is the exact opposite of “hot” for me.  He hasn’t done it in a long time, and I’m grateful.  I hate it.

So why the hell did I write it?

We could come up with a lot of reasons that sound good.  Maybe I was “reclaiming” the experience.  Maybe I thought it fit the characters.  Maybe I set aside my own personal bias against that kind of interaction and acknowledged that it’s something other people like.  All of those could be true.  But I know what I think.

I think I wrote it without thinking about it at all.

When I write, I’m fascinated by the things that are revealed to me as I go along.  If I get into the right groove, I learn things about the characters, their environment, the plot, whatever, that I didn’t know until I started.  It’s interesting, the things that come out when I let myself just go.

I also learn exactly what I’ve internalized, just by virtue of living in the society I live in and having the experiences that I’ve had.

I try to fight these things, on a conscious level; hence why Marion is obsessed with brides wearing white and Maddie pushes back against it, or why she and her mother have that conversation about “fault” when it comes to infidelity.  But sometimes they slip by me, and I don’t even notice until I go back and read my work over again.  Vinnie’s kind of grabby, isn’t he?  Always yanking Maddie out of the way, steering her where he wants her to go.  I noticed that, after I wrote it, and made a conscious decision to have her assert herself when it happens.  But I didn’t realize it was there, while I was writing.  Just like I didn’t realize that I was slut-shaming Maddie’s sister – an addict whose choices are judged equally, regardless of whether she makes them deliberately or while under the influence, when her ability to truly choose anything is pretty compromised.  I noticed that, too, far later than I should have.  It’s out there now, and all I can do is try to work against it moving forward.

I consider myself a feminist.  And it bothers me that I have these issues pop up, that I have these notions and ideas that I so strongly disagree with, just lurking under the surface, waiting to rear their ugly heads.  In the normal course of things, I’d go back and re-write, tweak things so they were erased from the plot, but that’s not how this works.  So instead I try to recognize them, fix the problem as best I can, and thank god that I’m finding these things before the whole book is finished.  Because who wants to be “that” author?  The one whose work encourages women to fall in love with an abuser, whose book says that rape is okay or stalking is normal or a woman’s refusal is only good for as long as it takes for a man to convince her otherwise, however he may do it.  I sure as hell don’t.

People think that writing romance is easy.  I have a whole post coming about why I disagree, from a technical stand-point.  But I’ve also found it difficult on a personal level.  Writing about sex, love and relationships shines a light on the dark shit you’ve swallowed, and confronting that is a hard, scary thing.  I find myself not only grappling with what I learn about myself, but with the responsibility I feel toward the people who are going to read what I write.  I’ve had the enormous pleasure of getting to know many other romance writers over the last two years, and I’ve found that they all feel that sense of responsibility; many of them wonder if they’re writing in a way that doesn’t alienate or harm the women who read their work.

I worry about the not-quite-woman who takes a peek, and finds a heroine being jacked up against a wall for a first kiss.  And my pen feels very, very heavy.

On Loss, and Other Things

Posted: April 4, 2015 in Uncategorized
Tags: ,

Two years ago, when I realized that my 30th birthday was approaching and I hadn’t yet done any of the things I wanted to do with my life (other than have children), I panicked just a little bit. I made the decision to do two things that were at the top of my list: go back to college, and finally publish a book. I’ve done really, really well at one of those things. The other…

I enjoy school. I’ve loved all of the classes I’ve taken over the last two years, even the ones I was required to take for my degree. I’m set to graduate in December with a nearly perfect GPA, job experience, a portfolio full of work and a pile of recommendation letters for absolutely anything I choose to do next. It’s been awesome, and I’m not for one minute sorry that I did it, even though an associate’s degree in creative writing isn’t exactly one of those “practical” degrees we’re all supposed to be out there getting. No regrets.

Well, one.

See, the point of the degree, when I enrolled, was to improve my writing skills and make connections in the local writing community. Done, and done! I was also supposed to simultaneously use those improved skills to keep churning out chapters for the novel I’ve been posting here, which I’ve…kind of done. With gaps. Increasingly large, painfully disappointing gaps. I have this one area in my life where I feel very accomplished and fantastic, and this other area where I feel like I’ve not only dropped the balls, they’ve shattered all over the floor and I have no idea how to pick them up and glue them back together. And the unfortunate thing is that the area where I’m succeeding was supposed to be the temporary fun part, and this other area was supposed to be the part I would build on for the future. Somehow, in the last two years, things got all twisted around and upside down, and I lost sight of what I set out to do.

A few weeks ago I had another one of those panic moments. I was deep into the process of looking at four-year schools to transfer to, with the intention of getting a BA in Creative Writing instead of the AA. And then maybe an MA. So I could teach writing! Because I do that, a bit, in my current job, and it’s really rewarding and fun and I love it dearly.

And then my husband said, “That’s wonderful! But, uh, when will you write?”

Oh. Oh yes, that.

The last two years have taught me that I can’t attend school full-time, properly parent my children, maintain my sanity and my marriage AND give my writing the time and attention it needs and deserves. I can’t. And if I were to pursue this teaching thing, that would be another four years, minimum, of being stretched incredibly thin and feeling like a failure somewhere and still not, you know, doing that thing I really really really want to do, which is finish and publish a fucking book.

I like teaching. But I like writing a whole hell of a lot more.

So that’s where I was, a few weeks ago, leaning toward just finishing the AA and getting back to the thing I really love to do. And then two things happened.

Someone I like and respect gave me some advice that pushed me a little further toward the writing side of things.

And someone I liked and respected, whom I’d known for almost a decade and considered a sort of private role model, passed away. And when she did, nearly everyone said, along with the grief and the heartache, “Oh no. She was so close to doing the thing she really wanted to do, and would have been so good at. What a terrible shame.”

I don’t want to talk about her too much; some stories are simply not mine to tell. My sadness is nothing compared to that felt by those who were closer friends, or her family. But she inspired me, when she started to pursue that dream. She inspired me when she kept trying to reach it, even when she was fighting the illness that would eventually end her life. She was an incredible, kind, compassionate person, and she would have been awesome at what she wanted to do. I will miss her.

So those two things happened, on top of some other things, and the end result was a massive reality check. I looked around at the path I was barreling down and realized, holy shit. This is so, so far from where I set out to be. And it’s not really, in the end, what I want. Maybe someday! But not right now.

The point is this: I have been working. I have an outline for the rest of this book – which I don’t think is cheating, serial-wise, but if it is we’ll just toss a flag on the field and keep running. (I don’t actually watch sports, so just go with that for me.) I’ll be starting the next chapter very soon. My goal is to have the whole thing done by the end of the summer. From there, I will figure out a timeline for the next book.

Yes. The next book. There’s at least one more in this universe. I have the outlines for two other, entirely unrelated manuscripts as well, that are more in the vein of mainstream paranormal romances. I think you’ll like them. I hope you will.

Hang tight with me, my loves. Shit is being straightened out. The path isn’t entirely clear for me yet, but I’m getting there. I forgot, for a little while, what it was I wanted to do. But I’ve remembered now.

I know, I know, I skipped out on last week’s posts. I had a really good excuse though: my oldest turned 10 last weekend, and it was kind of traumatizing. For me, not for her; I’m pretty sure she had the best damn day of her life, whereas I had to spend several hours inside a small room filled with bounce houses, screaming kids, an arcade where half the games were broken and employees who gave less than a shit about refunding the money we lost inside some of said broken games. I’m glad she had fun, but I still have a horror hangover. So that’s why I wasn’t around. (That and my mom came to visit for the weekend, and she lives in a different state – we only see each other a handful of times a year. Mom wins out over everything, y’all. Sorry.)

At any rate, I’m mostly refreshed and ready to go, so let’s dig in to part 2 of the lessons I’ve learned since starting this project (part 1 can be found here):

Research

I came across a writing tip the other day, wherein the writer addressed the issue of research in writing, and what to do when one hits a wall in terms of knowledge: interrupt the flow to do the research, or skip over it and come back later? The tip was to insert the word “elephant” into the manuscript and keep going, so that one could simply run a search on the document after everything was finished and fill in the holes at a later date. It was a good tip, and it’s a technique I’ve used myself when I hit a plot wall, although I prefer to plug in an * rather than “elephant”. Whatever works, though.

I wish I could fucking do that now.

You would think, going in to my story, that it wouldn’t require much in the way of research. “Love story during the zombie apocalypse”, like, what the fuck could you be looking up? And I suppose I could have fudged on a lot of stuff, or eliminated plot points to simplify the process. But no. No, I prefer to know exactly how something works, like vaccine production or CDC quarantine procedures, and THEN I screw around with it, changing aspects to suit my needs and keeping just enough so that it could be plausible, maybe, if you tilt your head and squint a little bit.

Question: What did I research and where did it show up?
Answer: Damn near everything, and you probably didn’t notice.

When I first started, I spent hours reading about vaccine production and distribution, CDC history and policy, and accounts of real disease outbreaks and how they were handled by medical professionals. I looked at blood-born disease vectors versus air-born. I looked at cases of “zombification” in the animal kingdom, shit that didn’t even show up in the plot until this last chapter, and then it was a throwaway from an obviously crazy person. But there really is a parasite that hijacks the brain of paper wasps, which seems a bit like karma considering there’s a type of wasp that hijacks spiders and makes them build webs on their behalf. The more you know.

In trying to figure out if I could put an indoor fire escape in Vinnie’s building, I wound up reading pages and pages and PAGES of the NYC fire code, which is….even more boring than you’re imagining. The answer I came up with was yes….maybe….if it met certain code requirements and existed in conjunction with other means of code-compliant escape routes. So I just made the building old and the landlord a jackhole who didn’t fix shit, like the elevator or Vinnie’s broken escape ladder (a code violation!) and called it a day. I wish I could get those hours back.

I spent about two hours two weeks ago trying to figure out if street lights in certain areas run on a separate power grid from the one that supplies power to domiciles, without getting a straight answer. Although the city of New York really wants me to know about the new light bulbs they’re putting in their streetlights, so…yay for them?

I’ve spent so many hours looking at a 3-foot tall map of New York City that I’m pretty sure I could get around with my eyes closed, despite having been there only once, 13 years ago.

That just sits in my kitchen, to the right of where I write, and mocks me all day long. Bless my husband for not even glancing at me oddly when he happens to catch me musing over it at random times. He probably doesn’t even notice anymore. I’ve lost time looking at worse things.

Like the guns.

So, full disclosure: like Maddie, I’ve never seen a gun in person, let alone held or fired one. I’m working on remedying that, as I’d like to have the experience before I have her shoot one for the first time, but the shooting ranges in my area kind of frown upon random people just showing up and asking to fire weapons? What’s up with that? I just want you to hand me a handgun and shoot at things for an hour, I DON’T THINK THAT’S UNREASONABLE.

(Okay, no, it totally is. But I’m working on finding a solution.)

In the meantime, I’ve been spending a lot of time watching Youtube videos where other people shoot weapons. And scrolling through websites dedicated to buying guns, to get an idea of the different types out there and how they’re constructed, loaded, broken down and put back together, cleaned, properly stored, etc. And, um, googling things that have probably ensured I’m being monitored now. Hi, NSA.

What else have I looked up along the way here? The population of New York City, obviously. Floor plans of traditional brownstones. Apocalypse survival tips, like how to open cans without a can opener and how to make a flashlight work without batteries. (The secret for the latter is tin foil. You’re welcome.) The structures of the brain. Hospital emergency codes. Drugs used in hospital treatment settings. Forensics – blood spatter, how certain causes of death are determined via physical evidence, that kind of gory stuff. How flooding affects the structural integrity of various types of buildings. (……)

The thing is, I like doing research. Even when I don’t use it, I enjoy finding out the answer and storing it away for possible use at a later date. But it slows the process down massively, like when I realize I just put a gun in my heroine’s hand, and she and I are equally clueless as to how to make it realistically go boom. I can’t just throw an elephant at the problem and come back to fix it later, when all the rest is done. And every chapter, or almost every chapter, something crops up that I decide I need the answer to, and I have to stop, head off into Google land and hope I don’t get caught in some terrible Wikipedia spiral where I started out looking up parasitic wasps and when I come back up for breath three hours have passed and I suddenly know a whole lot more about Costa Rica than I ever intended to.

Don’t look at me like that. You know exactly what I’m talking about.

This would probably be easier if I could just let certain things go, accept that it’s fiction and doesn’t have to have even a hint of realism about it, but I can’t. Lord knows why. So I fill notebooks with information I’ll never need again and turn my bookmarks tab into a horror show, scatter bits and pieces of real shit throughout the text knowing nobody will ever know the damn difference, and drive myself crazy while everybody else is like “Holy crap, when are they just going to FUCK?!” Which is a problem we’ll address with next week’s post on Romance.

But seriously: Weaponized parasitic zombie virus. That’s how it’s going to happen, you guys. Buy tin foil and be ready.

You can still be fancy in the zombie apocalypse.  Don’t slack.

(Also, final note: I have my fingers crossed that I’ll have the chapter ready for Sunday, but I won’t even lie, I have a SHIT-TON of school work to finish before Monday, so no guarantees.)

Last week I snuck in a reference to a post that I intended to write when Love in the ZA celebrated its first anniversary, where I was going to go over some of the lessons I’ve learned since starting the book and the blog; you may not remember this, since it was a loooooong time ago, but in the beginning I was up-front about the fact that a) I’d never shared my work with anyone, not even my husband, before I started putting it up here, and b) I had zero experience with the serial format. A little more than a year later, neither of those things is true anymore, and the process of getting from Then to Now has been….interesting. I thought it would be fun to dissect it a little bit.

Then I dropped the ball and disappeared and missed the 1-year anniversary, and we didn’t even have cake. I really wanted to have a cake, you guys.

Well, it’s too late for the cake, but I do still intend to write about the lessons and whatnot. I tried putting everything into one post, all neatly bullet-pointed and organized, and then it got crazy long and even I didn’t want to read all of those words dragging on and on down the page, so I’m breaking things up. At the moment it’s looking like it’ll be a six-week series, encompassing the following “lessons”: Approaches to Writing, Continuity, Research, Responsibility, Romance and Fatigue. I might think of more as we go along here, we’ll have to wait and see.

Since I touched last week on the issue of linear writing, which falls under Approaches to Writing, we’ll start there. As I mentioned before, under other circumstances, I tend to write scenes for a book as they come to me, jumping over and around areas that are blocked and coming back to them later, or leaving them out altogether, depending on how the final manuscript shakes out. Other writers take the linear approach every time. Either way is valid – provided you have the time to piece things together into some semblance of order before putting it out there for someone to read. Unfortunately for me, writing a serial doesn’t give me that kind of time. It’s zero percent helpful that I (think I) know how the book will end, or that I have scenes from later chapters already scripted in my head and ready for the page; what I need is the NEXT chapter, RIGHT NOW. My brain is less than accommodating on this score.

Outlines, I’ve heard, can help a bit with this issue; they allow you to lay out major plot points, so you have a better idea of where you’re going, and then you just write so you travel from point A to point B to point C. I tried that.

 No spoilers!

Super fucking helpful.

Another issue I’ve encountered is determining what, exactly, constitutes a chapter. Due to my writing style, I never break things into chapters until I’m done with the manuscript; scene follows scene, and then I go back through, read it, and figure out where it would be appropriate to do a mid-chapter scene break (you know, usually delineated with a ***) and where a chapter break would make more sense. Only a handful of Love in the ZA’s published chapters have scene breaks – most of them feature just one scene, in the interest of getting something up to be read, and also for ease of use; I can’t remember where I heard this, but somewhere I read that readers tend to abandon blog posts that require them to scroll down too many times in order to read it in its entirety. Chapters in a serial aren’t exactly the same as blog posts, I guess, but I’ve still had that tidbit in the back of my mind every time I’ve decided how far to write in a given chapter. In some cases I think I made the right call; in others, I’ve erred. I had Staples print me out a copy of all the chapters I have written so far, for editing purposes, and a single pass through led me to cut things down from 32 chapters to 24, just by changing chapter breaks into mid-chapter scene breaks instead. (33 and 34 weren’t written when I had that done, but I would totally combine them for a final draft.) Sometimes I make the conscious decision to break a longer chapter up into two, due to the format here, but plenty of these changes only made sense to me long after the work was done and I’d gone several chapters ahead. It’s the kind of editing that can only be done once the finished product is all laid out, which makes it impossible to do on a week-to-week basis. I find that immensely frustrating.

The last two things I’ll talk about are editing in general, and time management, which go hand-in-hand for this type of project (or any project where there’s a deadline, and you’re not just banging shit out in the privacy of your own home, free to fiddle with it until you decide to send it out for scrutiny). My typical method is to handwrite everything – EVERYTHING – for my first draft. Then I type it up, surface editing as I transcribe. Then I print it out, edit for language and clarity, print it out AGAIN, edit for grammar, print it out AGAIN and make sure there’s nothing else I want to change. In case you missed it, that’s four drafts, potentially five, depending on whether that last run-through yields anything (and it usually does, because writers generally can’t resist ripping their own shit apart, even if it ends in tears and a mangled piece of crap that was probably better off left alone). How much time would you guess that takes?

Any guess shorter than “Too fucking long” is incorrect.

I started out adhering to this method, which I love and am hugely dependent on. Then I realized I was spending upwards of 15 hours a week laboring over a 1500-2000 word chapter, in addition to all of the other shit I have to do every day, and something was going to have to give. Since I’m paying for school and legally required to tend to the needs of my children, the process had to change. So I gave up an edit. Then another edit. Then I had to concede that spending 3 or 4 hours handwriting a rough draft for a chapter was probably an unreasonable use of my time, and I cut it down to handwriting until the juices started flowing, at which point I now switch to my laptop, type out the rest of the chapter quickly, and then go back and transcribe the first part. My wrist is happy with the change, but I’m not. I’ve tried to make sure that the work itself hasn’t suffered, but I can’t make an unbiased judgment on that; I vacillate between loving the hell out of (almost) everything I’ve written and wanting to throw the whole manuscript into the fire.

Although now that I think about it, I feel the same way about the 100,000-word fantasy novel I’ve been working on for nigh-on 15 years now, so maybe I just have a love-hate relationship with my work, regardless of the time invested.

Some of my gripes about editing are related to issues of continuity and research, so we’ll save those for later posts. Next week we’ll tackle the topic of Research, wherein I’ll explain how I came to read the entirety of the New York City fire code and watch so many YouTube videos about Glock handguns that I’ve surely ended up on some kind of watchlist.

Are you still here? I wouldn’t blame you if you weren’t. I haven’t been around, so it would be the height of hypocrisy to expect otherwise out of my readers. But I’m back now, and if you’re still around, I promise to make things up to you. I haven’t figured out how yet, but I will. I hope.

So that was a very long and unexcused hiatus. I’m not usually a procrastinor, and I didn’t actually intend to go so long between chapters, it just…happened. Let’s break it down.

August 24th: Oh shit, the chapter is due today. But it’s not done! I don’t know how to end it! I can wait another week. They’re used to me being a slack-ass by now.

August 31st: Still not done. Now it’s two weeks late. Okay, maybe I can write that post about things I’ve learned in the last year instead, and get them the chapter next week. They’ll forgive me.

September 7th: Now I’m really, really late. This chapter has to be super awesome, to make up for how late I am. It is not super awesome. In fact, it’s terrible. I’m terrible. Everything in the world is terrible. Let’s go buy boots.

September 14th: Fuck. Me.

September 28th: Where is the line between “Not too late to salvage things” and “Should probably just fake my own death”?

SIGH. And the worst part is I still don’t have the fucking chapter finished, because I STILL don’t know how to end it.

When this happens to me with other work, I jump past it – just move on to the next piece of the story that I have a crystal clear view of, and make plans to come back and fill in the gaps later. That’s my general writing process; I’m not a linear writer, by nature. What I often find is that 1) I have a better idea of how those gaps should be filled once I’ve written around them, or 2) They aren’t gaps that needed to be filled after all, whatever I was trying to force in there wasn’t an organic progression of the story. Either way, it works out.

I’ve resisted jumping, even in my drafts, because I’m trying to teach myself to write in a linear fashion. I think I might have to accept that it’s a lost cause, though. If I’d just done it six weeks ago I’d probably have this damn chapter finished, plus a bunch of other chapters already in the hole. At this moment I have nothing except the draft in my head, which has been gone over so many times I could stand up and recite it word-for-word. Which is fucking USELESS for our purposes here.

So that’s where we’re at. I swear to god, there WILL be a chapter on Sunday, and we will all just have to accept the possibility that it will end in mid-sentence. We’ll pretend it’s artsy. PRETEND WITH ME.

I love you.

Feedback Friday

Posted: April 4, 2014 in Feedback Friday
Tags: ,

So there was some sex stuff the other week. I think most people knew it was coming, but if not, uh, sorry to surprise you? Hopefully you don’t read this at work or anything. In the future I think I’ll be tagging those posts with a NSFW tag, so you can make informed decisions and I don’t have to worry that somebody got reported to their manager for reading zombie porn.

I know some people liked that chapter, since they said so. If you’d like to preserve that enjoyment, I suggest you stop reading now, because I’m about to tell you what it was like to write it. It’s not nearly as hot as you’re hoping it will be.

Obstacle #1

Here’s what I want you to do: imagine you’re going to write a sexy letter to your significant other. Nothing too dirty, just something he/she can peek at during alone times and get a little het up by.

Now imagine your mom is going to read it. And one of your professors. And some of your classmates, for good measure, because when somebody asks for the link to your blog letter, you don’t stop to wonder if it’s appropriate to share it, you just hand that shit out. (What’s up, people! Hopefully you wait to read the sexy times chapter until after this semester is over, but if not, I look forward to avoiding eye contact with you for the next six weeks.)

You can’t NOT write the letter. You’ve made a deal; you’ve been writing a series of letters for months, and it’s TIME for this letter. There’s no way around it. You have to write it, and it has to be good. No copping out with euphemisms and fade-to-blacks – get in there, be fairly detailed, make it hot.

Did I mention your mom is going to read it? FOCUS. But also – your mom.

Obstacle #2

You’ve got some kids wandering free-range around your space. A lot of them. Not a classroom-full or anything, you’re not the damn Duggars up in here, but it’s enough. And they keep standing next to you. They’re not reading your letter, they’re just….there. Right there, up against your shoulder, talking about Minecraft and snack time and by the way, when are we going to Grammy’s? You know, that place where YOUR MOM lives.

That’s….well, that’s a mood killer. Common sense says you put your letter away, and you wait until no one under five feet tall is threatening to talk to you. To continue on in the face of the Goldfish Brigade would be fucking weird.

Obstacle #3

Okay, so you’re alone now, and you can kind of sort of block out all those extra people who are going to be reading your letter. Now we have to leave the letter conceit behind, because this is a fiction specific concern, and a problem for everyone who writes stories that involves sex scenes: the people who read it? They’re going to assume that you’re speaking from personal experience. And now you’re worrying, as you’re writing, oh my god. Someone is going to read this, and then the next time I see them, they’re going to give me that Look. The one that says they now know everything about my sex life, or at least they think they do. They’re going to think about it, you know damn well they are, and they’re gonna be like, “Oh wow, I had no idea she likes having sex on a stranger’s couch while her sister sleeps in the next room. What a ho!”

(For the record, I have no sister, and it’s been at least a week since I had sex on a stranger’s couch. AT LEAST.)

The truth is likely that nobody gives a shit, but that’s not what my brain was telling me while I was writing. In that moment, everybody cared, everybody knew me, and they were all waiting outside my front door to point and laugh when I walked to the mailbox.

Obstacle #4

There are no decent substitutes for the word ‘clit’. That really sucks.

The Moral

If there aren’t any more sex scenes for a while, I hope you’ll forgive me. I’m still recovering from the last one.

All writing problems are psychological problems. –Erica Jong

About a month ago, my dog started acting strange. She does this sometimes; despite her breed’s fierce reputation she’s a sensitive little soul, and she goes through periods of what I can only describe as melancholy. She doesn’t really want to eat, she doesn’t want to play much, she doesn’t want to put in the effort to walk outside or across the house or do anything other than lie in her crate all the time. In the deepest throes of these ‘episodes’, my husband and I must resort to hauling her bodily from her nest, carrying her out to do her business and spend time with the people who love her. She manages to fake it for maybe an hour before she is demanding to be let back into her crate, where she will sleep. And sleep. And sleep.

In the time before and after these episodes, which last several weeks and try everyone’s patience, she becomes moody and snappish, a notable departure from her usual behavior. She’s generally a very happy-go-lucky kind of dog. She’s lived with us for three years, and every time this happens, my husband and I question each other, exasperated. “What’s wrong with her? Why is she acting like this? She was fine just yesterday!”

Physically, she is perfectly healthy. There’s no rhyme or reason to her behavior.

At least, I thought there wasn’t.

About a month ago, I started grinding my teeth in my sleep. I would go to bed with a headache, and wake up with one. I started taking over-the-counter painkillers every day, just to keep the agony in my eyes and jaw at bay. It didn’t work; it isn’t working. I’ve either had or been on the verge of a migraine for so long I don’t quite remember what it feels like to not be in pain.

This isn’t anything new to me. It happens twice a year, when the last remnants of my depression and PTSD decide to come out and play. The period between September and October is difficult, for reasons I’ve never been able to discern, but the period from January to mid-March is worse. I suffer from nightmares; dreams from which I wake sobbing, or screaming, or soaked in sweat. I lack the energy to do even the most basic tasks. I don’t want to go anywhere, or be around any people, not even those I love and live with. I can’t stand to be touched. I eat rarely, and only because I have to.

This is, believe it or not, an improvement. My condition was much worse 4, 5 years ago. I’ve been medicated and therapied and support grouped, to no avail.

And then I got my dog.

I didn’t get her for the purpose of helping me – I’m simply a sucker for a sad faced animal in need of help. When I adopted her, she was on the kill list at a city shelter, slated for euthanasia in a few hours’ time. After a sour experience with a prior rescue dog, I’d decided I had very strict criteria for the next dog we’d adopt: male, a puppy I could train from the beginning, small enough that I could pick it up when it was full-grown. What I got was a one-year-old female pit bull, with saggy teats and lost puppies of her own and a white stripe on her forehead that is, I swear, the softest spot on the planet for rubbing a finger or a nose. She loved kids and hated cats, a hatred that has transformed into intense fear after the smallest of our feline litter thoroughly kicked her ass. I can pick her up, but it’s not a pleasant endeavor. Her size, however, doesn’t keep her from believing with all her heart that she’s a lap dog.

After she moved in, I stopped thinking about the best way to commit suicide.

There’s some debate as to whether dogs are capable of empathy or sympathy. Scientific debate, anyway. I think most people who actually own dogs would argue that their dog is absolutely aware when they’re having a difficult time, and that the dog goes out of its way to offer comfort.

My dog, it seems, has developed sympathetic depression.

It’s pretty brilliant, actually. When I’m dealing with her and her stubborn refusal to get up and go pee at least once today, for god’s sake, I’m not listening to the voices in my head. The voices that natter at me about all the things I’ve fucked up, all the ways every terrible thing is entirely my fault, all the ways I’m inadequate and stupid and should go eat worms and die – those voices have to shut the fuck up for a little bit, we are carrying an armful of 60-pound dog down the hallway here and do not have time for your bullshit. When she’s bummed out and not willing to do anything except sit in my lap and groan sadly, I get to rub her ears and her head for hours on end, and we all know the benefits involved in petting an animal.

The one thing she can’t do is fix the block that happens when I’m in the throes of one of my ‘episodes’. There are so many other thoughts running through my mind, most of them unpleasant, that they tend to out-shout the story related ones. I’m trying to push through it, but it feels like an exhausting physical task, rather than a merely mental one. Digging ditches, at this point, might be less demanding.

I’m working on it. I’m hopeful that the next chapter will be ready for Sunday but honestly, right now, I can’t make any guarantees. I’ll do my best, and that’s all I can say. If it doesn’t come off, you can kindly direct any hate mail to my sofa, where I’ll no doubt be moping with my BFF.

There are worse ways I could be spending my time.

Someone in my Real Life asked me about my blog post last week, wherein I explained that I was going to try blogging more often because I find it difficult to do. Their question basically boiled down to “Why?”. “Why bother, if it’s hard? Just skip it. Forget the blog post, focus on the story and let the rest go.”

My response was to back away while searching desperately for something shiny to throw and distract their attention, because their question hit on a series of issues that I wasn’t comfortable discussing with A Reader. Issues like Platform. Marketing. Selling Yourself. Issues that are the subject of books for writers, and blogs for writers, but I’ll be damned if I can find somebody who will just straight up TALK about it, like, for real. Not in a “giving advice” kind of way, but in the really real “Oh for god’s sake this SUCKS” kind of way. We’re not supposed to do that.

Well. I thoroughly enjoy doing things that I’m not supposed to do.

Here’s the deal. You’re here, reading my shit, and I love you for it. No joke, I’d take you out for a drink if I could, because somebody reading something I wrote, liking it and coming back to read more is a lifelong dream that you personally have made come true for me. You’re awesome.

You also scare the shit out of me.

Common advice for writers, whether they’re independent or under contract with a house, is to get out there and build a platform. Make a blog. Get on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Google+, whatever, wherever there are potential readers, put yourself out there. You may notice that I’ve done some of those things! (I recently joined Tumblr. I….do not understand it at all.) Yay for me! Such a good little writer!

Except, you know, that’s not all there is to it. Duh. No, once you’ve joined those places then you have to get to work generating content, and the nature of a blog/Facebook/Twitter is really to introduce the more personal side of an author, so they can connect with readers on a different level. I mean, I follow Joe Hill on Twitter now and I’m pretty sure we’re besties, even though he ignored me that one time I tweeted at him. Doesn’t matter. He’s a funny dude, especially late at night, and also? We both write our first drafts longhand? Which makes us soulmates. Learned that on Twitter, y’all. The point is, now I KNOW Joe Hill, like, intimately, and as such I feel a little bit invested in his success. I want to buy his next book, whatever that will be, and tell all of my friends about it, and maybe THEN he’ll tweet me back, like, WHAT THE FUCK, JOE HILL.

That went to a dark place for a second. Let’s take a deep breath together. Love you, Joe.

So anyway, with the generating content, that means putting yourself out there, talking about yourself and your life and hoping to god that somebody, somewhere, will find you likeable. Which is hard enough for an introvert with low self-esteem issues to do, but this is THE INTERNET. People are mean here. A lot. I would provide you with examples but come on, we all know. Go read a Yahoo article comment section or something, then come back. We’ll wait for you to finish crying.

I recently saw some ugliness directed at a fellow author/blogger over something she wrote, stuff that basically devolved into her being told she should hate herself and die. Now I’ve been lucky enough (KNOCK WOOD) to avoid any of that thus far, but I swear, every time I hit post I cringe just a little bit. Will this be the day that someone rips on me for always talking about shoes, like, bitch, FIND SOMETHING ELSE TO TALK ABOUT? Is someone going to decide they hate my shoes, and therefore they hate my stupid face and my stupid book too? Did I just say something that caused me to lose a reader? How about now?

How about….now?

It’s hard. It’s hard to put yourself out there and hope not too many people hate you, or that you don’t do something to ruin whatever enjoyment they’re getting out of your story, which should be judged on its own merit and not on personal feelings for the author but we know it’s not, not always. There’s always that ONE GUY who says something totally dickish and ruins everything else he’s ever done or said.

(I sure miss being able to watch Top Gun, is what I’m saying.)

On the other hand, you have to be honest, because people can spot a fake, and also, admiration for a personality you’ve made up isn’t real admiration. You’re still going to cry yourself to sleep at night worrying that someone will catch you out and hate the real you. So you commit to the honest track and you talk about the shoes, because really, honestly, truly-

 

I have a serious problem, you guys. I don’t even wear most of those.

An additional issue with this whole “platform” thing is that what works on a blog doesn’t necessarily work on a site like Twitter or Facebook. Here I can ramble on and on and ON; on Twitter, the character count is severely restricted, as if we’re sending out telegrams here and paying by the word. It’s hard to be witty in 140 characters or less. Some people are really good at it, and to that I say well, some people have clearly made a deal with the devil. Hugh Howey has said that if you can’t write at least one entertaining Tweet a day then you’re in trouble as a writer. Personally, I think that’s bullshit (and I’m not just trying to justify my abysmal twitter feed). As I touched on last week, there’s a big difference between writing a couple thousand words of fiction a week and writing non-fiction; shrinking it down to micro-non-fiction for a medium like Twitter is even harder.

All right, so, let’s say you have your content, it’s great, hilarious, people will LOVE IT. Now it’s time to dance, little monkey. First of all, did you consider SEO when you wrote your shit? That’s the best way for people to find your blog. I can’t tell you how much flak I catch from my husband for not giving two balls about SEO. I just can’t do it. I have a hard time with the tags I put on my entries, as I feel like I’m over tagging. When this one goes up it’ll probably have, like, 5 – 4 real ones and one I put on there for shits and giggles. That feels like way too many to me. Clearly I fail utterly at SEO.

Okay, now we’re dancing. Time to blast everybody with a tweet, a Facebook update, maybe another tweet because that shit moves fast and it’s off the feed before you blink. But, you know, try not to sound like you’re spamming people. Can you do that? Can you bombard people with your links without making them feel like a used car salesman just found them online and is leering skeevily in their general direction? Or without sounding like a pathetic attention whore, all, “Look at me! Read my stuff! LOVE ME, FOR GOD’S SAKE.”

I’ll tell you, every time I post a link on Twitter or Facebook, I feel a little bit like I’m knocking on your door, hat in hand, apologizing for bothering you but could you spare me a few minutes to talk about Jesus. It also feels egotistical. “Haha, what I wrote here is so awesome, everyone in the world must read it!” But how else do you get your shit out there? Not sharing = not being read, and that’s obviously not the goal. It gets a little easier the more you do it, but there’s still that lingering hesitance every time. I don’t know if that ever goes away. Ask me in a year, I guess.

So there’s my take on “platform”, which I think essentially boils down to “I have issues better served by therapy but I’m going to use you for that instead, and also, shoes”.

That sounds about right.

Feedback Friday!

Posted: January 3, 2014 in Feedback Friday
Tags: ,

Happy 2014, everybody! I hope you had a safe and celebratory New Year’s Eve, doing something more awesome than what I did, which was watch the ball drop with a horde of children who once again were bitterly disappointed that nothing, like, exploded at the end, which is an expectation they have every single year. Confetti and fireworks are not enough for these people.

This is the time of year when everybody starts making their resolutions. I used to do that. “Stop smoking! Save more money! No more fast food! Lose weight! Be nicer to people!”

Have you ever tried to curb a nicotine and shopping addiction at the exact same time, while subsisting solely on coffee and air? Do you know how that kind of thing turns out? Well, I rang in the new year by buying three new pairs of shoes and just had a cigarette, so there you go. SUCCESS.

This year I decided not to do resolutions, but focus more on goals. Goal #1 pertains to this here blog, so let’s talk about that a little bit.

I’m generally happy with the pace of my writing itself. 30,000 words or so over the past 4 months is pretty good output, especially when I consider that I wrote exactly zero words of fiction from January to September of last year. What I’m not happy with is the writing I’ve been doing in other areas. I’m starting to get the hang of Twitter, and that shit is surprisingly fun, but I could do better. I also find these weekly blog posts hard to write, since I spend the other days of the week working on what I’m going to post on Sundays; it’s difficult to make the switch from fiction to non-fiction and figure out what the hell to talk about. Rather than throw in the towel on that, I’m going to try and stretch in the opposite direction, and add another post to the weekly schedule; the only way to get better at something is to work at it more. I haven’t decided on the final format yet, but I’m leaning toward something like a Top Five Tuesday. Could be a link round-up, a list, pictures, I’m still working on it. I do know, however, that if you come back on Tuesday, I’ll have a very special Top Five Embarrassing Things About Me, to kick us off.

So, mark your calendars for that one, and I’ll see you Sunday for Chapter Seventeen!