Madly, madly on

dragonflyHi!  Um, yeah.  Sorry.  It’s been a while.  But remember me?  I’m still knocking around.  Thing is, I’ve been kind of busy, but you’ll be happy to know that I’ve been busy writing, among other things, not just slacking off.  Not exclusively, anyway.

It’s been a hectic couple of weeks.  My office moved locations, so there’s been a new commute to get used to, and I’ve been working pretty hard on The Paper Flower after reexamining the whole enchilada after my last post.  Now I feel a lot more settled – both at my new desk and at the keyboard at home – and things are pretty good.

The problem with The Paper Flower was that I was falling into the classic trap of the depressive megalomaniac: sometimes I get so wrapped up in my head, spend so much time poking and prodding my miserable feelings, that I give those emotions far too much power over my better senses, and I get trapped in my own sticky tar pit of woe and wailing.  That’s something I wanted to examine through Sareisa and her world, of course, but it isn’t something I should be doing at the same time as my fictional characters.

So I’ve pushed past the worst of it, and I’m back to personal agency and adventure and treason and murder and all those good things.  I’m about four-fifths of the way through my first draft of the first book, which is very satisfying indeed.  I don’t know when it’ll be on the shelves, though.  Part of me wants to write the entire trilogy before I release the first book, just so I don’t write myself into a corner and can’t change it because you’re reading the first installment already.

Besides, I’ve barely done any marketing for The Spoil of Zanuth-Karun at all, and I really need to spend some time on that.  Bad self-published author.  Bad girl.  No biscuits for you.

Anyway, I just wanted to check in and assure you guys that I’m actively working on stuff, and feeling better about the direction I’m taking.  I write way too many of these “I haven’t forgotten you, honest” posts, but hey.  You’d rather I write books than blogs, right?  Right?  Right.

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Close to home

IMG_9215With The Spoil all grown up and free to wander the big, wide world, I’ve started to turn my attention to my next project.  After spending so much time and effort getting that behemoth out the door, it feels weird not to have a document open every evening, either to tinker with or guiltily ignore.  Next on the list is supposed to be The Paper Flower, but I find that I’ve run into a couple of big roadblocks already.

I’ve been toying with this book (or trilogy, for so it shall be) for more than a year, developing characters I like but changing the plot at least three different times, moving people around like chess pieces to try to figure out where they belong and what they should do within a general framework that I’ve never been quite happy with.

Last year, I wrote what I thought was the entirety of the first book, but abandoned the second less than a chapter in.  Why?  Well, a few different reasons.  One was that it sucked.  I mean, really sucked.  People were wandering around, moaning and wailing, not really doing anything besides dropping cryptic hints once in a while about an event that never materialized.  My main character, Sareisa, was gloomy and indecisive, struggling with tragedy after tragedy with no redemption in sight, and the entire novel was weighed down with grief and sadness.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing.  Characters have to struggle in order to eventually triumph, and things need to go wrong in order for people to make them right.  But I wrote Sareisa at a time when I was caught in my own battle with depression, feeling lonely and abandoned, stuck in melancholy that I thought would never clear.  I got better, and I thought Sareisa would get better as I looked at her in a new light this time around.  I’ve made her character stronger, more resilient, and less self-pitying, which works for the book.

But reading some of the things I wrote back then has been hard, because so much of Sareisa is simply a reflection of myself.  Even if some of the events that she goes through are (thankfully) nothing like my own life, her emotional trials, her thought processes, her fear and yearnings, her indecision and pain are deeply personal to me.  There are three paragraphs that make me cry every time I read them, because they are, essentially, a distilled version of my own battle to feel like I belong in the world, that I am worthy of love, and that some day I will find some sort of happiness that will overcome the sense of isolation that has been so deeply ingrained in me.

That this small, human thing seemed like such an unthinkable possibility was the great, hidden sorrow of her life.  However hard she tried to resign herself to her fate, it was that tiny kernel of hope which kept her awake far into the night, begging the gods for some relief from the torment: acceptance of her current state or a solution to it – anything but the terrible pain of hope deferred that tore her brittle heart into pieces.

I find it hard to write a story so steeped in sadness.  When I read, I want hope and adventure and glory and all the things that are missing from my own sense of self.  When I write, I want to be swept away on the tide, not reminded of my own failings and shortcomings.  I hate writing this book.  I hate codifying and exposing these things about myself.  I hate Sareisa – I condemn and revile her – because I hate that she is so similar to me, and can’t overcome the things I fight with every day.

And yet, this story is a powerful one.  It’s a story I want to tell.  It delves deeply into the lives of women, rich and poor, constrained and free, in a society that alternately reveres, ignores, frees, and cages them.  They say an author must feel everything they want their readers to feel.  If I ever buckle down and write the story that must be written, I will be happy if my readers feel even a fraction of it.

But for now, I struggle to find the inspiration, the drive and the motivation.  I struggle to grasp that moment of clarity, where the plot falls into place like the last piece in a puzzle, and the way forward is as clear as day.  I haven’t had that moment yet, but that doesn’t mean I won’t.  Like Sareisa, I must push on through the dark, and hope, with no real assurance, that there is a light on the other side.

2012: A Year in Review

I know, I know.  Every single blog and newspaper and TV show on the butterflyplanet is doing a “year in review” thing right now.  It’s not original.  I’m sorry.  But we do it because it’s a fine thing to look back on our accomplishments, our missteps, our joys and sorrows and mistakes.  Those who fail to learn history are doomed…yeah, you get the idea.

Besides, 2012 was a big year for me.  The only year I’ve ever existed, as far as most of you are concerned.  2012 was my year of recovery, of exploration, of risk and redefinition and reward.  It’s been one of the best years in my life so far, because I feel like after 25 years of desperately trying, I’ve finally gotten my feet under me…for the moment.  And that’s something to celebrate.

So here’s a list, in roughly chronological order, of some of the major happenings of the year.

• I spent the first three quarters of the year unemployed and increasingly anxious and strapped for cash.  While I kept my spirits up by doing a lot of creative things like crocheting and starting The Spoil of Zanuth-Karun in April (I think), there was a lot of uncertainty about my future and it was difficult to keep my spirits up about ever finding employment again.  Luckily, in October, I struck gold and began my new job after nearly exactly a year of being out of work.

• I also spent the first months of the year adjusting to medication for depression and working with my wonderful therapist to reconstruct the architecture of my thoughts to allow for a new and hopeful way to look at the world.  I learned that I needed to listen to myself, set my own boundaries when it came to dealing with other people, and take some chances while remembering that failure might hurt, but it wouldn’t kill me.  I’m still working on all of those, but the process led me to…

• …publish The Last Death in March, start my blog soon after, and really try to make a run at this author thing.  I’ve nearly completely overcome the reluctance that led me to hide my creative work for so long, and I’ve gained so much confidence, a couple of good friends, and a lot of opportunities by finally putting myself out there.  I got to see my words in print, and see other people enjoy what meant so much to me, which was the coolest thing ever.

• Throughout the year, I was giving away hundreds of digital copies of TLDTC, totaling almost 1600 at this point.  I gained a bunch of new fans and got to meet some truly awesome authors and readers, which had been one of the best things about this whole ride.

• October was a very busy month.  In addition to starting my new job, I found out that I won the Shelf Unbound contest (in case you haven’t heard), and I spent the whole second half of the month walking on clouds.

• In December, the magazine issue was released to much fanfare.  I sold a decent number of books, but more importantly, I was put in touch with some agents who were very interested in seeing where they could take TLDTC in the future.  I am currently waiting on pins and needles until the holiday season is over to hear what they have to say, so 2013 might be off to a crackerjack start, as well.

And here are some of the things I’d like to accomplish in 2013, because writing them down makes me more or less accountable for them:

• I will finish SZK by the middle of February and polish it up right after.  If I’m still self-publishing at that point, I’d like to have it available by April of 2013 at the latest.

• I will return to The Paper Flower right after that, because the first book is nearly done and it’s actually better than I remember it.  If all goes well, you might be seeing it in July or August.

• I will try to develop more in the way of original, stand-alone content for this blog, so it’ll become more than just a series of posts whining about writer’s block.

• I may be moving house in the spring, and if so, I will be getting a cat.  This will make my life nearly complete.

• I’d like to get more involved in doing guest spots on other sites, so if you know anyone who’s looking for a contributor, please send them my way.

• I’m going to try to read more.  I read deeply rather than broadly, and it’s nearly impossible for me to immerse myself in someone else’s work when I’m writing my own, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned from getting my feet wet in the industry, it’s that there are more good books out there than I can ever hope to read in ten lifetimes.  But that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t try.

• I’m going to give up chocolate and run a million miles a day and eat kale every Wednesday and only buy vegan shoes and…oh, who am I kidding.  No one actually does any of that stuff past January 3rd, anyway.

So there you have it.  My past and future, all laid out neatly and tied up with a bow.  I hope that your 2012 was as generally positive as mine was, and that your 2013 is a time of happiness, excitement, love, forward motion, and lots and lots of good books.  Have a very, very happy (and safe and not-too-drunken) New Year, and I’ll see you on the flip side.

This Is Not An Exciting Post

I’m sorry, but it’s true.  I mean, sure it’s exciting that I got my first copy of the final version of my paperback (and sold it twenty minutes later, even though I was planning to give it away).  I’m getting a bunch more tomorrow, some of which were promised to people already.

Fireworks, however, are thrilling.

And yeah, it’s kind of neat that I’m starting to submit my work to book review blogs (please, please, please leave reviews on Amazon if a) you don’t share my last name, and b) you’ve read enough to have an informed opinion).  I spent half an hour trying to figure out how to use Calibre properly before realizing that I can download a .mobi file straight from my Kindle dashboard, which shows how much common sense I have.

I signed up for a couple of other rating and sharing sites, too, so hopefully I’ll be getting some feedback soon.  But that doesn’t really make this an interesting post.

What would?  I’m working on that character sketch I talked about a few days ago.  Character sketch?  It’s 50,000 words long.  It’s sort of a fun side project, though.  I hope to get it polished up pretty soon, and maybe put it out as a free Kindle extra, although it doesn’t have a title.  I’m terrible at titles.  I’ll have to think of something.

Exciting yet?  Probably not.  I’m still undecided about how to proceed with The Paper Flower.  I really dislike going back and making changes to things.  I’d rather start over from scratch, just because it’s less confusing.  I’m tempted to print it out, make notes, and retype it, doing the changes as I go.  What I really need is a 3D holographic interface, where I can see everything all at once, move blocks of text with my hands, and telepathically make everything exactly how I want it to be.  Now that would be exciting.

Anyway, I just wanted to check in quickly, because I haven’t written for a few days.  I will return to my coherent, themed posts very soon.  Until then…

[Addendum!]  All right, this might be a little exciting.  I’m offering a free promotion for the Kindle version of The Last Death of Tev Chrisini tomorrow (April 3).  That means you save a whole $0.99, which is pretty much the most enticing thing I can offer a person.  If you’ve been hesitating about reading it for fear of breaking the bank, now’s your chance.

Rather Be Dreaming

Reality is encroaching on my perfect dream of waking up late, writing all day, and going to sleep at 3AM.  My parents, who read this blog (hi, guys), will be thrilled to hear this: I actually need to really, really start trying to get a job.  Paying the rent is one of those things that mature, responsible adults have to do, you know?  But unfortunately, my brain, which has done me the honor of deciding to love something I can’t make a living at, has also wired itself in such a way that I can only focus on one project at a time, and I will always pick the project I love over the one that drives me up the wall every time I think about it.

I suppose that’s not really unusual.  No one likes looking for a job, and I don’t particularly like whining about it.  I’m more concerned about the fact that I haven’t been writing.  I guess that’s normal, too: I’ve been focusing so much on prepping my manuscript, getting everything formatted, and trying to bludgeon my way into people’s consciousnesses that I can’t really focus on being creative.

But I think I’m starting to hate my story again, and that’s not good news.  I don’t hate the story – it’s a good story.  But while I love reading about political intrigue, I’m terrible at writing it.  I guess it’s a good thing I’m not on the school board or anything, because my first reaction when a character has a problem with someone else is to assassinate them.  Works every time, doesn’t it?  My two main characters are relatively low-ranking people, going up against a very powerful guy with an entire intelligence service at his disposal.  It doesn’t make sense why they aren’t dead yet.  This presents a problem.

I think I can solve it, more or less, by rewriting Sareisa a bit.  She’s been annoying me anyway, and is one of the major reasons I can’t really get into it right now.  It means going back through a hundred thousand words and redoing about half of them, the thought of which makes me cringe, but I don’t think I can move forward like this.  It’s so frustrating.

It was so simple to write TLDTC.  It was effortless.  The story came, the characters came, the plot worked itself out with only minor inconveniences.  I think, as I mentioned before, that trying to inject personal stuff into my character has made it difficult.  Not that there aren’t elements of myself in Tev – there certainly are – but not in the same way.  I know that the advice is to write what you know.  But I write fantasy because I don’t like what I know.

Bleh.  I’m thinking about putting in on hold and maybe playing around with writing a prequel to TLDTC.  There’s definitely a lot of material I can cover, and since I already know what’s supposed to happen, basically, it could be a nice little exercise that’s interesting without being all-consuming, leaving me plenty of brain space to focus on a job search.  Writing should be fun.  I should enjoy it.  I know from experience that if I’m not really into something, I won’t make the effort required to make it the best it can be.  I should listen to myself.  And besides, it’s not like I have a contract or anything.  No one’s dictating what I must or must not write.  I’m going to give it some thought.

Would you prefer to see a prequel about the fall of the empire and the origins of Tev’s family, or The Paper Flower?

A Million Little Gods

I used to listen to music when I wrote.  My first piece of long fiction, an attempt at Multiverse fantasy that will never, ever, ever, ever, ever see the light of day again, was written, as a desperate attempt at escapism during the worst semester I ever had in college, to a playlist comprised of about fifteen songs.  It included Mozart’s Dies Irae, Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, and 13 tracks of Gregorian chant.  Yes, I was startled every time when the soothing, lilting chanting of real life, actual monks suddenly switched over to this.  But it worked.  Kinda.

TLDTC – can I do acronyms like the cool kids? – was written to a Pandora station which featured much of the same sort of thing.  Lots of chant, some Hildegard von Bingen (someone needs to make a movie out of her, cause she was awesome), and some harpsichords.  But after 40 hours of writing, which didn’t even get me through the month of November, I hit my limit.  Yes, Pandora has a limit, and they will cut you off from all your stations.  I do have an extensive library of such smash hits as Symphony No. 9 in D Minor by Georg Tintner, from the hilariously named collection “I Love the (18)80’s”, and all of Chant, (oddly enough, Chant II: Vow of Silence never made it onto the charts).

But listening to the same songs over and over didn’t work for me by that time.  Once music gets too familiar, it just gets irritating.  Maybe that’s why my first attempt at storytelling turned out so abysmally.

These days, I need silence.  I can’t listen to anything while I write.  I don’t know what brought about the sudden shift, but it happened.  I do use songs for inspiration, of course.  This song, which was randomly (and legally) downloaded during the search for something else of a similar name, became the theme for the boss battle in TLDTC.  Did I just say boss battle?  Okay, you know what I mean.  But I think it encapsulates the feeling of the last three chapters pretty well, and if I ever make a movie, that’s going to be in it.

While this song, from whence the title of this post is taken, helped color the background story for a couple of my secondary characters (want to know how Seovann got his scar, why Kerimu is so cranky, and what the deal is with that sword [It’s not quite what you’re thinking]?), which turned into a 50k word novella on its own.  I’m thinking about polishing it up and releasing it as extra material some day.  It’s also like, one of my favorite songs ever, so don’t say mean things.  Try driving down the highway with it.  You’ll see why.

Sareisa, my main character from The Paper Flower, which is my current project, has a theme song, too.  Little bit of a different mood, isn’t it?  Well, it’s a sad story.  Or at least, it starts off sadly.  It’ll get better.  But sometimes you’ve got to beat the crap out of your characters before they really start showing what they’re made of.

This rose symbolizes...my commitment to making a nice presentation on the topics pages?

On a personal note, Sareisa is a character that was conceived during a difficult time in my life, when I was struggling with depression, anxiety, lack of motivation and lack of direction, and I started to write about her because I thought that if she could find a way out of her sad, stifling life, then maybe I could, too, by figuring things out through writing about her overcoming her obstacles.  I stopped working on her for a couple of months because it was making me more frustrated with my own situation, and I knew that I couldn’t find an answer for her problems if I couldn’t find one for myself, first.

I’m much closer to getting there than I was a few months ago.  I’ve started to do the work, and now I can write about her doing it without feeling like I’m trapped in the same dismal place.  Feels good.  I still don’t know exactly how she’s going to get what she wants, but that’s just a logistics problem, not an emotional one.

What does this have to do with music?  I don’t know.  But that’s a sample of how music affects my writing.  A book is no different from a film in the sense that you’re watching a story unfold, and music is an integral part of setting the mood while that happens.  I associate songs very strongly with certain emotional states or events in my life, as most of us do, and my characters’ lives are the same thing.  Although, you know.  Not actually real.  Don’t tell them.

I am so excited about getting my proof copy in the mail.  Pictures (I mean of things other than water, flowers, and dictionary editors) will be shared once it arrives.

Nothing Wakes You Up Like a Spider in the Tub

This seaweed on a beach in Nova Scotia was actually pretty neat, unlike most arachnids.

Yeah.  Good morning, right?  I will not post an accompanying picture of a spider, even though it would be thematically relevant, because I hate spiders.  Instead you get this seaweed, which looks kind of creepy and weird, too.

So, how is everyone?  I’m pretty good.  Sareisa has stopped eating lunch, gotten rid of her annoying guests, and is probably going to wander around for a while, falling in love with someone she shouldn’t.  All is well.

Also, I ordered a paperback proof copy of my novel, and I hope it looks as amazing in real life as it does on the screen.  It better, considering I spent eight hours yesterday typesetting it properly.  Kerning, if you will excuse my French, is a pain in the ass.  So is block text.  I did use Word to do it, even though all the typesetting blogs rail against it, because I downloaded a trial of InDesign and my head exploded.

Now, I’m familiar with Photoshop, and I can usually figure out new software pretty quickly, if I put my mind to it.  But I wanted it done that day, and I think it would take me a long time to get proficient enough in InDesign to do what needed to be done.  Does that make me a horrible person?  Yeah, maybe.  But I checked over everything, and the final product still looks pretty darn sweet, and totally readable.  No rivers for me.

And that’s what I did with my weekend, and why I didn’t write a blog post.  I have a whole list of real topics I want to get to, and I will.  I’ve been so busy trying to get my manuscript in shape, though, that I haven’t even been thinking about doing much writing.  Which is another reason, besides my general impatience, that I wanted to get the proof finished and ordered.  Once that’s done, and I’m happy with it, that’s it.  It’s in its final form, and you can’t go messing around with it, like I mentioned in my previous post.

As much as I love the ability to make changes, I think I’ve finally made all the tweaks and adjustments that are reasonable to make.  I know I said that about six months ago, but it’s true this time.  Honest.  Probably.

So anyway, this was just a little bit of housekeeping.  I’m planning to make a lot of time to write this week, and I should get back into the swing of things.  Stay tuned.