Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Me and myself

Monday was another fruitful meeting at the writer's guild. The group is expanding, and every event has a good energy to it. Because the venue changed recently, I got to see an old historic town not near at all to where I live, but I think in general I'm capable of staying on the bright side. We shared our writing with one another, and filled out little sheets with feedback and criticism. Most of what I got was useful, and everyone agreed that I read too fast. I come off as nervous, because I am, and it shows. So, step one to improve the public reading is to slow down.

Before Monday I had a pretty good weekend. A good friend is opening a store, and I got to learn all about the behind the scenes features of that experience (went ahead and tucked that away for use later). There is no small amount of activity that precedes a lonely little space in some random suite transforming into the kind of joint that looks like it couldn't be anything but filled with merchandise and customers. It's pretty amazing to me what sort of things can happen when one isn't paying attention (similar to the experience of taking a different route home and the entire trip being dotted with moments of "hey, where'd that come from?").

And of course I wrote. Chapter 1 went about as smoothly as the prologue, and since then I've had some good percolation on the little details in Chapter 2. Recently, another friend discovered how little details can breath life into a situation. The devil is in the details, but not just. So, I wouldn't say I have momentum yet, per se, but it's coming. I can feel it, and it's a nice sensation. Like always, I made a new folder for the new book and week by week, arduously, I will slowly fill it with file after file. In the beginning it looks pretty sad, but in the end it's something to feel positively about. I wonder if I'll ever get used to this process.

In other news, I just got my copy of the contract back after the publisher signed and mailed it. I don't know how much more real it makes things feel, but it certainly makes them more legally binding. I'm developing a bit of a split persona, part of me looking forward and part of me stuck in the present. I wonder which of them is happier, or more content, or which resents the other more.

And lastly, I got the third person to ask me, demand might even be a better word, for a look at an early draft of the next novel. It felt good, and even better to receive positive reviews (if anyone asks, these are beta readers I'm talking about) about something that will hopefully vastly improve over the next several months. A friend was taken aback somewhat when I actually outlined how much I had written, and how much I was still planning to. It strikes me as odd how often I have no idea what to say; maybe the words on the pages speak more quietly than I planned?

Monday, September 19, 2011

Onward, upward, jazz

This morning I wrote, and it felt pretty great. Usually, I don't make such a judgment until after I've gone back and  looked over whatever it was a second time, but it felt good to be back into the swing of things. I don't really have an idea of how much I plan on writing per week; honestly, it felt a lot like I was just doing it because I was getting more and more afraid that it was getting away from me. Likely, I'll spend this week making plans about at what speed to execute the outline I'm scribbling and scratching through.

I've also signed the next contract for the next book, which requires me to fill out an author information page. Or, to decide on excerpts, blurbs and begin brainstorming on what I'd like the cover to look like. I'm not sure if they changed the form since last time, or if I just didn't see it, but this time around there was even a space for professional blurbs, which are those really impressive-sounding quotes that are on the back of books at the store. "This book will change your life," and "This author is at the top of her/his game," and the like. I remember thinking back, years ago, about how nice it would be if that happened to me.

So there I was, staring at the blank space, thinking about what 1-2 sentence blurbs I had from "authors of the same genre field," and then I struck upon a novel idea: ask. I had, after all, over the last couple years met a handful of authors, some of whom even wrote things similar to my own. I sent out a couple queries, figuring the worst they could say was no, and ended up with some very nice things that ought to occur on my very next back cover. I might have even blushed a little.

Picking the excerpt went much less smoothly. In fact, I'm still working on it. With the last book it was easier because I took deliberate steps in the writing to tell the reader what the book was and what it wasn't, so the excerpt was an opportunity to tell potential buyers what the book was and what it wasn't. The novel is paranormal, and I wanted to be specific about tone and depth. In that same way, the second book is much less of an introduction to my interpretation of the genre, so I had to consider instead which elements would draw a reader to read (and hopefully buy) the novel. But it's been an interesting process; once again, I've learned a lot.

But to offset all this, I've recently had some difficulties over another manuscript. The situation has led me to wonder at the conundrum creative enterprise is always in, which is that editing types will criticize and discriminate based on things that have been done, yet will simultaneously demand that the efforts of the creative be new and different. It seems to me that these two things are mutually exclusive. That is to say if you want new and different, then you have to accept the new and different and judge it on its own merits, not the merits of things that have already been done and re-done to the point of being hackneyed. Or maybe that's what the sweet spot is: just far enough outside the lines to seem innovative but close enough to the center to be recognizable and appreciated.

But I won't digress, because I've started writing again. I'm moving forward.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

P(r)ep talk

It took me some time to realize that last week's post had no mention of what I was writing, or preparing to. I had the same revelation that I did last night to hear of another author's experience at Dragon Con, the meeting, the greeting, and the et cetera.

And things aren't getting much better. As I mentioned months back, the structure of my urban fantasy series is somewhat odd. The first book has three main characters, and the sequels, which occur at the same time, take place in different places. You could say the first book has three sequels (and each of those has its own sequel as well, preceding the grand finale where everyone is back together again, comprising a crystal structure to the series). I was finally able to explain this to someone at the publisher that put out the first novel, and they were very open about letting me publish the first sequels in rapid succession. I was a bit glad. That is, until I went to last night's meeting.

"Three books in one year is a lot of work" another, more knowledgeable writer told me. And she's right, I realized. If one does their due diligence, with the book signings and marketing and promoting, then with three books that's triple the work. Part of me wants to take a step back and try something else, but at the same time, the reason I'm in this mess in the first place is because I tried my best to tell the story the best way. I didn't write the characters into a happy reunion or contrive some way for the setting to stay the same. What happened is what I felt the story "needed" so now, for things to make the most sense, it would work best if they came out as closely together as possible. If that takes a lot of work then I guess I have a lot of work to give.

But I was talking of the actual activity of writing. I'm almost done reading the second fantasy novel so I will be in the proper mind to commit to the third. Distractions abound, of course, but ideas are percolating, too. It's taken a while to return to me, but slowly, slowly that feeling is returning. The one where ideas bubble up and brim over too fast for me to write them down. I'm excited and driven and all I really have to do is plan the outline, then make the effort to seclude myself and let the words come. Thinking back, I guess I assumed this would all happen faster. I wanted to finish the book by the new year, which would give me four books in twelve months. But I guess it doesn't so much matter when I cross the finish line, but that I cross it. To that end, I have another short story I want to work out, and some more submitting to do (never did get back on the "let's find an agent" train).

While clocking out today, my boss asked about the sequel, and I told her it was already written, among others. She asked me if this was what I really wanted to do, and encouraged me to do it with a genuine smile. What I am never able to  articulate is that it has nothing to do with want, and everything to do with will.

Yeah. That feels better.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Who was I again

Last night I had vivid dreams about missing all manner of important appointments. It didn't matter how quickly I dressed or how much I fretted, the rendezvous location was always too far away, or suddenly obscured. This morning I breath only a little easy as I reflect on Saturday, squinting at names I knew but now cannot fully recall.

Saturday, before I went on stage, there was a meeting of the minds. People I knew from four different circles convened at a popular pub in downtown Decatur and met each other for the first time. I only had a few things jotted down on a note card, but I leaped to introduce everyone to everyone else. In the end I did a poor job of that and also of outlining what I would say. With every speaker that got up and sat down, my time crept closer and closer. I cannot remember a time when I was more terrified, and I educate teenagers these days. And my fear did not abate when the man called my name, and I did not run and hide. I stepped up behind the microphone and stared out at all those attentive faces and realized it is much worse when the audience is expecting something from you.

And I can't say that I did my best (that would've involved a nicely written, scribed in advance outline and practice) but I tried very hard not to sound ridiculous. I ended up by introducing my mother, and speaking a bit about my past, the characters in the book, and reading some. There were questions, but they're blurry now just like the rest of the afternoon's transcript is. As it was, I had to have faith in my friends: I asked each of them, repeatedly, how I did. All of their comments were positive, overly so actually, so I'll have to take them at their word. My mother said I was too loud.

A bunch of other things happened on Saturday, too, but really it was more of the same. I gained an understanding of how "it" probably happens. It being the elusive "break" or "making it." Networking, is what I'm trying to say. You meet a person, and you talk to them, and when the opportunity arises, you give them a reason to remember your name and face, (you did a reading, too; you're also published; you read their work and wanted to talk about it; you're a long-lost cousin) and you repeat this process until a persona of you is created, and you start to lose viscosity in people's minds. The point, I guess, is to become like peanut butter, gunking up the works until you're a bit of what they think about, and talk to others about, and those others speak with yet more others. Which is ironic because really, you're even more vaporous than you were previously. That is to say you're not doing anything more or different, moreover you actually have less time to do what got you into those conversations; other people just know who you are and what you're doing. I met an author getting his work optioned for a movie, another writer who is somewhat famous, and another who was just starting out. I had a picture with an important man, and was asked to start an email chain regarding a reading on campus. All, I guess, because I was there standing around awkwardly in the Fall heat and not typing away in a dark room somewhere.

But I can't really say, much less know. When it was all done, I felt like I had been given a stay of execution. I was so elated I even drove over to a friend's and walked with him to Dragon Con, in my fancy new shoes and ironed shirt no less, and stayed for several hours. When the high wore off, I realized my feet hurt terribly, and went home and fell unconscious.

The interesting thing I discovered, and this was before all the craziness even started, was that established writers do that sort of thing all the time. It has nothing to do with writing, but everything to do with being a major success at anything. I guess I hope it all gets easier with repetition, because I just may find myself under those crowded lights again.