Getting Things to Done

I’m starting off this Monday morning a little tired after staying up to finish the draft of my second novel (which was, weirdly, my first story sale) Bitter Cold. I wrapped it up at almost exactly midnight, which I’m taking as a good omen. Now that the draft is done, I’m comfortable giving folks a sneak peek at the cover:

bitter_cold_sneak

Finishing my first novel was in many ways easier than finishing the second one, even with the head start of having the story complete in a shorter form.

The first one was a “short story” that kept getting bigger during draft until it became clear it was really a short novel. I jumped into the story because my precious daughter Maddie wanted a Snow White tale, and then threw a ton of fun and thought-provoking elements into it to make the story fresh enough to hold my interest. In some ways, it was a novel that wrote itself almost by accident. Then when the self-published version garnered the attention of a small press, I was able to come back to it months later and beat it into a much better shape with solid editorial help.

This time around, I was starting with a story which was in many ways an emotional minefield. Both elements of the story itself, and the publishing journey of this particular work, were intensely difficult to revisit. I vastly underestimated how much more difficult it would be to expand an 18,000 word novella into a 40,000 word novel than it had been to expand my 40,000 word novel into a stronger 50,000 word novel. And I let personal drama completely derail me about 3/4 of the way through the process, and it took a while to get my mojo back.

But now, all the scenes are written, all the plot holes (I could find) are plugged, and after a quick polishing pass it’s going out to beta readers for feedback. Whatever happens from this point forward, I can say I’ve written two novels. Which is an accomplishment worth celebrating.

And I probably will celebrate, once I get some rest. :) It was a tiring weekend for my household as a whole. My husband was on call with his job at the local water utility, and ended up called out on a main break and working 23 out of 27 hours straight. My brother-in-law, sisters and nieces and nephews came out Saturday. The end result was more things being finished: namely the flooring in my new bedroom and closet, and the lighting fixtures in those rooms getting installed. Also, a giant pot of bean soup and cornbread muffins being consumed.

Like the novel, this room project has been an open loop in my brain, a thing unfinished nagging at the back of my mind and making it hard to rest easy. It’s been even more frustrating once it got to the point where I couldn’t just knock tasks out myself. I’m an industrious person, and I rocked the demolition phase, but everyone who knows me (including me) is pretty certain I shouldn’t be handling power tools.

At this point, it’s looking pretty good for us to have the whole thing finished by my birthday. Maybe by Halloween, when we typically host all and sundry for the epic Trick or Treating provided by my small town neighborhood.

The homestretch of any big goal is often the hardest part. At this point, everyone involved is just kind of over the whole thing. You’re all tired, you’re all a little grumpy, and it’s still not done yet, and you sort of suspect you’ll never cross that finish line.

But once you do, once you put that foot over the line? It feels amazing, and for just a second, the tired fades away and you remember why you started in the first place.

Business advice for artsy-fartsy people

Why is it so hard to treat our work with the same professional attitude which seems to come naturally to other careers?

From The War of Art, Steven Pressfield:

A professional recognizes her limitations.

She gets an agent, she gets a lawyer, she gets an accountant. She knows she can only be a professional at one thing. She brings in other pros and treats them with respect.

 

The business of being a creative professional can be a tricky thing to manage.

For one thing, creative people tend to undervalue our work. A lot. So when people want to pay us nothing but “great exposure” for it, we’re tempted to say yes. Although mostly it just exposes us to more people who’d like to get something of value that costs them nothing.

Somewhat related to this is the idea that if we give the financial side of our work any attention, it will become “work” in the “boring, prosaic daily grind” sense. We fear being concerned with money matters will poison something that brings us joy and delight. We hold so tightly to the idea of doing something “for the love” that we don’t recognize that attitude keeps us stuck in the realm of the amateur, which literally means “for the love.”

(For me in particular, because I write whimsical adventure fantasy, I worry that too much authorial seriousness might infect my stories and drag them down. Which is dumb. I know.)

Another problem is that many of us (particularly writers) tend to not be fabulous with numbers. So we have to be diligent about either forcing ourselves to do the math in regards to payment we’re owed, or getting a someone with good bookkeeping skills whom we trust to do it for us. Creativity is great. “Creative accounting” is not, and usually the artist ends up on the wrong side of it.

(Sneaky secret: I used to work as a bookkeeper, eons ago. Which means I don’t lack the skills, I just DESPISE deploying them with the passion of a thousand fiery suns, even on my own behalf.) 

Finally, many of us grew up being social outcasts. So when we find ourselves achieving any level of acceptance and start making friends, we find it really difficult to make waves in those relationships. When something seems hinky, we don’t push to find out if someone is just having a brain fart or is deliberately being dishonest. Because we’re stuck in the double-bind of “if I try to avoid being taken advantage of, I risk this friendship I value.”

There’s another piece of it, more difficult to wrangle with, where a lot of artists have cultivated a victim mentality. We expect to be taken advantage of, we identify with being mistreated, and we don’t ask the questions we should because deep down, we embrace that narrative for ourselves. We secretly enjoy being beautifully tragic (or tragically beautiful) and are complicit, sometimes knowingly and sometimes unconsciously, in our own betrayal.

(Ugh. Yeah. I was worst about this in my 20s, but I’ll probably always struggle with it. I’ve written about this a lot in the past, since it relates pretty directly to my Enneagram 4 personality type.)

Here are a few things I’m trying to keep in mind lately.

  • True friends can handle your asking an honest question when something doesn’t seem quite right.
  • Honest business people don’t mind when you check their numbers, and if you find an error, they fix it.
  • People who really want to help you grow your career don’t expect you to put in hours of work for a “maybe we’ll pay you someday.”
  • Some people are honest, well-intentioned… and just not good at managing a business. Cut them some slack, but invest your talents wisely and with an eye towards the future return.

The thing is, when you don’t ask the question, you walk around with the niggling anxiety someone might be taking advantage of you. Which sucks. When you ask the question, either you get a satisfactory answer or you get waffling and hand-wringing (which is an equally conclusive answer, in its own way.) Either way, you know where you stand and your mind can be at ease.

When you don’t check the numbers, you can miss out on some pleasant surprises. Or you can miss out on information you could use to make better decisions. It’s information that can help make you more successful as an artist–but not if you don’t have it.

When you say yes to things you don’t really want to do, you might preserve a friendship. But you also lose the opportunity to pursue work you actually do want. You only have so many hours in a day. Ask yourself if you’re really okay with giving them to something which is meaningful to someone else, but not to you. Otherwise, you’re just going to end up resenting them. Which isn’t good for a friendship, either.

Finally, you’ll almost certainly make all these mistakes, if you’re blessed enough to actually have a lengthy creative career. You might make them more than once. It’s all part of the learning process. Just like you aren’t a master of your craft from your first painting or short story attempt, you’re not going to be Trump-level business savvy at the outset, either. Don’t beat yourself up, just try to do better next time.

You’re gonna need that energy you’d spend beating yourself up to finish that next project.

After Imaginarium

I’m sitting in my favorite coffee shop, the one where I think they decided to give me my own office because I come here so often. Lifehouse is singing “Broken” and the cafe au lait is starting to get my neurons firing again.

 

troll buddies

Last weekend, I attended Imaginarium. It was a great experience. From moderating and sitting on panels, to chatting up other authors and publishers in the Exhibitors Hall, to sneaking out with Leslea Tash, Chris Garrison and Addie King to mug next to Louisville’s Bridge Troll. (Who is much friendlier than the one described in Peter S. Beagle’s “Underbridge.”)

I had the pleasure of meeting writer friends I’d only previously known online, like R.J. Sullivan, whose Red Lotus series of space opera I loved and recommend. And also, running around the con wearing a Batgirl t-shirt and cape. (I really hope nobody was expecting anything heroic of me when the fire alarms went off.)

10517537_859850050691926_5205864527618087960_n10679841_1491263017794474_5849679771728043443_oIt was also my first official outing as a partner in a small press publishing company. Marian Allen, T. Lee Harris, Sara Marian were all in attendance, working the booth and doing panels as well. They were staying at the hotel, while I was driving back and forth from the mighty metropolis of Palmyra. It was a lot of driving and meant I couldn’t participate in the parties, but I did get home in time to catch the epic fireworks display at the Pal Wow Family Fun Fest, aka the 175th anniversary celebration of my tiny hometown.

For a first year event, Imaginarium was amazing. The networking was phenomenal, the caliber of the content was fantastic, and I’m confident it will continue to grow in attendance in the next year.

ByaWkwpIIAA17NsI meant to write this recap sooner, but my life doesn’t slow down for even a minute. This week, I’ve been helping prep for VirtOOHoso, a party with a fine art theme from OOHology.

After three days of the con and week ramping up to a night of bourbon, music and socializing, I’m a little partied out right now.

Okay, I’m  A LOT partied out right now. I can fake being an extrovert for short periods, but it really wears out my batteries. So I’m looking forward to a quiet weekend of recharging. I’m inspired, and ready to get writing again.

But maybe, a nap first?

 

 

You Gotta Lay Your Burdens Down

Last week, I put a few things which were stressing me out behind me. I don’t think any one thing was particularly bad, but cumulatively, on top of my ordinary (or not) life, it had gotten to the point where it was literally making me sick.

So about mid-week, I started listening to my gut. I let go of some ongoing freelance side work I wasn’t really enjoying and didn’t really need the money from.

The next day, I finished a short story for an anthology which I’ve known about for months but which of course, I waited till the last minute to actually write. A better fix would have been to have written it sooner, but at least I did get it done.

And then on Friday, I begged off a work project which was bringing back some very unhappy memories. Faced with the choice of bringing up personal matters at work, or working on something that was making me physically ill, I ended up going with the former.

I don’t really like that I can’t do everything. My limitations often make me incredibly frustrated. But refusing to acknowledge and honor them just ends up making things worse. Putting just three relatively small burdens behind me has already freed up a lot of mental and emotional energy.

I hope this week, you can find the strength to put down some heavy things you maybe haven’t realized you don’t need to carry. That might mean going ahead and doing a thing you’re procrastinating about. It might mean letting yourself off the hook for something you shouldn’t have agreed to do in the first place. Or it might mean recognizing a situation has changed, and what made sense before doesn’t now. Regardless of how you ended up toting that unnecessary weight, you’ll feel better when it’s behind you.

Have a good week, friends.

Imaginarium is Coming!

Well, friends, it’s only two weeks away.

Imaginarium is an entire convention centered on creative writing taking place September 19-21 in Louisville KY, featuring over 140 panels and workshops organized into 12 categories. Over 130 professional guests will be featured in the programming, covering all aspects of creative writing in the worlds of books, eBooks, screenplays, comics/graphic novels, and even game design. All of it is set within a fun, convention atmosphere that includes activities like a Masquerade, gaming room, film festival, and more.

I’m super excited about this event, because it will be my first time on a panel at a writing conference. I’ve presented at marketing conferences, but for some reason that seems different.

If like me, you’re a writer who wants to learn more about your craft and the business of publishing, this will be an amazing opportunity to learn from professionals.

If you’re a reader, gamer or film buff, you can meet a ton of authors and artists and have a great time getting the inside scoop on their work and stocking up your shelves with fantastic new reads.

You can still register at http://www.entertheimaginarium.com/attendee-registration for just $55 for the whole weekend or $25 for a day pass. Are you part of a book group or writing group? The group rate is even better, $35 per person for groups of 8 or more.

Here are the panels I’ll be participating in over the weekend:

Marketing Roundtable

Friday 5:30 - Our super-panel of artists and industry professional discuss the ins and outs of successful multi-media marketing and answer the audience’s questions.

Social Media Overview

Saturday 9:30 - A survey of the main social media networks, their strengths, and their importance for writers/storytellers.

So You Wrote a Book – The Idiot’s Guide to Small Press Publishing

Saturday 2:00 - Writing the book is only the beginning of the journey! Come here our authors, editors, and publishers talk about what it takes to get a book published in the Small Press world, from edits to cover art, and even promotion.

Making Your Novel Shine in an Editor’s Eyes

Sunday 1:00 – Our editors and publishing pros give the low-down on what they want to see in a submission. From checking your plot to polishing your dialogue, this is the tell-all panel for prospective authors looking to break into the market.

What’s In a Name?

Sunday 4:00 – There are so many tags and titles in today’s publishing world. How are we as writers supposed to stand out from the crowd? With our titles, of course! Come talk to our industry professionals and learn tips and tricks for properly naming your books, your series, and even your website.

10599272_10152747078307845_943792464937459698_n

Time and Tide

According to the solar calendar, summer begins about three weeks into June, and ends about three weeks into September. But Americans, who are much too stubborn and independent to listen to something as unreliable as the sun, all know it really begins Memorial Day at the end of May, and ends on Labor Day at the beginning of September.

I think this is why May and September are probably my favorite months of the year. May is no longer spring, but not quite summer. The neon greens and kaleidoscopic pastels of March and April have ripened into the verdant green palette of summer. But summer is still a thing to come, and thus May is rich with unrealized potential and plans for the coming summer. September is similarly not yet autumn and no longer summer. School is in session, the heat is softened (slightly, occasionally) by a sweet breeze that whispers promises of October’s bracing vibrance. Like its fellow bookend of summer, September is positively humming with untapped possibilities.

10599272_10152747078307845_943792464937459698_nMonths of transition and change make that most tantalizing of promises, that things can be different. That they must be different. I think after some of the events of this summer — global, local and personal — that promise has never seemed so intoxicating to me. I’ve just come back from four days at the sea, having spent most of it soaking up the wind and flinging myself against the waves till they beat the stress of the last month out of me. Sort of like beating the dust out of a rug.

It’s not that my life is bad — exactly the opposite, I have too many blessings and friendships and passions for them to all fit comfortably into a mere 24 hours per day. And I don’t think the world is falling apart, despite what you see on Facebook.

But I do think my life, and the world, is pregnant with immense change. After years, maybe decades, of gradual, incremental changes, I think a tectonic level of pressure has built up, ready to release with earth-rattling force.

Well, okay then. Whatever change is in the wind, bring it on. If I have come back from my brief vacation with any clarity, it’s that fighting against the tides is good exercise but not much use beyond that.

My level of sang froid about it all probably has to do with the fact that I’ve already had a previous New Madrid moment in my life. Whatever happens, I believe like St. Julian of Norwich that “All shall be well, all shall be well, all manner of things shall be well.”

Julian lived in a time of tremendous darkness and change. It’s likely the only reason we have her writings is because the authorities of her time didn’t feel like a woman, and a hermit to boot, was worth the attention of refuting them. Her gift was a remarkably optimistic vision, of the world as a tiny brown nut, cherished in the hand of its Creator.

I can’t help but think that like me, the world is in fact quite a bit nutty, and still in need of great care.

Three Fates has become two houses (and that’s OK).

I haven’t posted to this blog since the first of July. It’s now almost the end of August. Let us pick up where we left off, shall we?

My July was extremely productive, which is why I didn’t blog. ;)  I made excellent progress on expanding Bitter Cold, my steampunk adaptation of “The Snow Queen” from an 18,000 word novella to a short novel. In addition to that, I did a good bit of activity behind the scenes, expanding my network of writer friends, and learning as much as I could about book marketing. I have a lot of experience in marketing for other industries, but publishing is a different animal. I put myself out there in a way I had never really previously done, requesting reviews for Mirrors & Magic, my first novel.

Comparatively speaking, finishing a novel is like childbirth. Submitting it to reviewers is like sending that kid off to school for the first time.

Comparatively speaking, finishing a novel is like childbirth. Submitting it to reviewers is like sending that kid off to school for the first time. Over and over again, in completely different neighborhoods. It’s nerve-wracking, once you start asking for reviews from book bloggers and other authors, as opposed to family and friends.

However, it’s also freeing. The people who agreed to review my book in exchange for a free copy did so because they were genuinely intrigued by the concept. I think among family and friends, even people who would ordinarily like your story can’t really get past the “it can’t be that good because I know the writer” prejudice. Or they keep putting it off because they don’t understand the urgency and importance of reviews when you’re just starting out. Mirrors & Magic now has about a dozen excellent, honest and credible reviews. Some of which made me tear up a bit reading, because it was so wonderful having a complete stranger get what I was trying to achieve with that story.

Then Someone Moved My Cheese!

I was trucking along with a pretty good head of steam under me (pun absolutely intended) when several big disruptions all hit at once, which in the words of Jayne Cobb “damaged my calm.” One disruption was the partners behind 3 Fates Press, the publisher I’d been having a delightful experience with thus far, split up.

They came out of the gate incredibly strong and fast. I think in that intense period of rapid growth, they developed two different operating philosophies. Of course, none of them could have possibly known that before the rubber hit the road.

From my perspective, I saw the benefits of both approaches. I elected to remain as an author with Line by Lion Publications (which will be run by the amazing K.A. DaVur, with Amy Eyes taking the editorial helm, Stacy Garrett covering design, and With Bells On handling publicity).

And I’ll be joining the newly-launched Per Bastet Publications as Publicity/Media Manager, along with the fabulous Marian Allen and T. Lee Harris. We plan to be open for submissions in January.

I adore all three of the former fates. They may not have been fated to stay together, but I firmly believe they’re all destined for greatness. :)

With all that said, the last few weeks have not resulted in a lot of prose being written. So next up on my To-Do list is getting back to a regular writing routine. The various situations which were draining every ounce of my emotional and mental energy appear to be, if not resolved, at least to have turned the corner.

After almost a month of unexpected visits, funerals, anniversaries, sleepovers, back to school shenanigans, and a white whale of a project at work… yeah. I think things might be about to get back in the general neighborhood of normal.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go take a nap!

Quote

“The professional loves her work. She is invested in it wholeheartedly. But she does not forget that the work is not her.” – Steven Pressfield, The War of Art

Not That You Asked: My Writing Process #amwriting

So, there’s a meme going around among writers where they tag each other and then write a blog post about their writing process. You can see the lovely Maid Marian’s post here.  If you’ve done one, drop a comment and I’ll add your link as well. Consider yourself tagged if you read this. No, really, I’m tagging you. No backsies.

I haven’t gotten tagged yet, but it always works out that when I finally do get tagged for stuff like this, I’m too busy or I can’t brain properly to write the post. So I’m going to skip the getting tagged part and just go ahead and write it anyway. Even though nobody asked. :/

My writing process, I think, will make some other writers a little angry. Because I know that a lot of other writers struggle with blurbs, and I tend to write the blurb first.

 I figure, if I can write a summary teaser that sells me on the story, the idea is strong enough to hold my interest through a draft.

When I have the nugget of a story idea, I basically pitch myself the story as if I were an editor. I figure, if I can write a summary teaser that sells me on the story, the idea is strong enough to hold my interest through a draft. Conversely, if I can’t make it sound like a story I’d love to read at the beginning, when it’s all fresh and unspoiled by the ugly process of actually wrangling words onto paper, then the concept probably isn’t strong enough to pursue.

So yeah, most of my stories had a blurb before they actually existed. I may tweak it if the final story veers far from my initial pitch. But it also serves as a litmus test while drafting. If I get stuck, sometimes I’ll go back to the blurb and ask myself if I’m still really writing that story I was all excited about.

I do a good bit of pre-writing usually before I draft. Some of it may be research notes, so I have them all in one place and don’t get distracted by Wikipedia. Some of it may be character vignettes or journal entries. It almost always includes a fairly detailed outline. As much as I’d love to be a discovery writer, I really like actually finishing stories. And for anything longer than flash fiction, that requires an outline. This week’s Writing Excuses podcast has a good discussion about pre-writing. You should check it out. (I also do the thing Mary talks about–going for a walk to ideate.)

Then I start drafting. I often make a copy of the outline in a new document, and start drafting above the outline. As I finish each section in prose, I’ll delete that section in the outline. That way, each time I return to the draft, I know what scene I’m supposed to start working on. My drafts can be very fast, depending on how much time I can find to work on it.

I typically do at least one clean-up pass right after I finish the draft. At that point, the whole story is still fresh in my head, and I find that glaring continuity errors are easier to spot. I also fix any obvious grammar gaffes that worked their way in. In a perfect world, for anything longer than a short story I let it rest a week or a month before going back and tackling the structural and line edit passes.

So,  that’s basically my process. For your amusement, here’s a “pitching myself” blurb I just wrote for a mystery featuring my psychic and ghost BFFs, Melody and Grace. I’ve never written a straight-up murder mystery, so this one would be a whole new genre. If you were me, would you think this story is grabby enough to write? Why or why not?

If you’d like a writing prompt, come up with a story idea and drop your self-pitch into the comments.

Faire Warning

Melody and Gracie road trip to a local renaissance faire so Em can pick up a little extra money filling in for the “gypsy fortune teller.” When they get there, she gets an ominous vision during a reading with one of the “knights” from the joust. He disregards her warning, and then turns up dead two days later. Can a part-time hairdresser/part-time psychic and her ghostly BFF solve the mystery? Or will Em be joining Gracie on the other side sooner than either of them would like?

Mirrors & Magic is out on audiobook

mirrors_magic_bannerMirrors & Magic, my first novel and Book 3 of The Clockwork Republics series, is now available in audiobook through Audible, Amazon and iTunes.  Hollie Jackson did the narration, and she did a fabulous job. I loved hearing Neve’s story come to life.

The book is now available in paperback, eBook and audiobook.

If anybody in the film industry is just dying to create a movie or TV show version, drop me a line. We can probably work something out.  ;)

If you like:

  • The Night Circus
  • “Fractured Fairytales”
  • “Nice girls finish first” stories

…then you might enjoy Mirrors & Magic.

The main character, Neve, is a little different from my usual heroines. She’s by far the most nurturing, others-centered protagonist I’ve ever written. Compared to Neve, all of my other female leads are, frankly, sort of self-absorbed.

Greta, Lu, Matti and Pru all need occasional reminders to consider the effects of their actions on other people. Shaen, from the Belle Starr chronicles, is technically insane and fairly focused on self-preservation. Neve, on the other hand, needs a little prodding to go after her own heart’s desire. She’s still spunky, smart and strong. But at one point, someone tells Neve “You couldn’t go one day without finding someone to take care of,” and it’s not very far from the truth.

A friend noted that Neve is a bit like Elsa from FROZEN. The story is largely about her “letting go” of her fears and embracing her own power. Once she does, she ends up in a position to help others more than she could when she was hiding her abilities.

Speaking of FROZEN… if you would like to read the novella-length version of my Snow Queen story, “Bitter Cold” I suggest you act quickly and pick up Once Upon a Clockwork Tale. It’s about to go out of print very soon.

However, this is actually good news. I am in the process of expanding Bitter Cold into a full-length stand-alone novel! For anyone who wanted more of Kit and Greta, you’re about to get your wish.

Between Snow White and the Snow Queen, it’s going to be one frosty, steampunky summer…