Thursday, October 31, 2013

Welcome New Member: Kerry Schafer!

I'm thrilled to announce a new member has joined our ranks.


Kerry Schafer is the author of BETWEEN and WAKEWORLD, as well as the new series of novellas called THE DREAM WARS. She is also our new Dragon Mistress, and her minions come after douchebag, butt-hurt writers, so beware.

Kerry will be posting every other Thursday, and her regular posting begins two weeks from today on November 14.

Please extend a warm, evil welcome to our sister-in-eviltry. Bring her offerings of booze and cupcakes and she MIGHT let you live. (I repeat: MIGHT. Remember, we're evil.)

Welcome, Kerry!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Biting the Hand...

A while back, I was doing my normal thing and poking around Twitter while I made breakfast when this popped up in my feed:
I threw up a little in my mouth when I read it.

I mean, all published authors have had some edits that make them want to scream but, dude... You're a goddamn professional. Grab a pillow, scream, then pull up your panties and get to work.

Here's a little mantra that might help you:
My editor is not my enemy. My editor is my book's very best friend.
Post it all over your office, house, car... tattoo it backwards on your forehead (so you can read it in the mirror) or forward on your arm (so it's visible every time you sit down at your computer). Learn it. Live it. Love it.

Editing isn't like a break up, it's really not. Your editor is not taking your book (heart) and ripping it to shreds in order to leave it (you) destroyed. It might momentarily feel that way, but it's not reality. Your editor's job is to make your book better.

Look at it like Frankenstein's monster.

Dude is basically building a person. He's got a pretty good handle on anatomy and has all the requisite equipment. When he flips the switch, the creature animates but...chaos results.

In the book world, that kind of chaos is bad.

Imagine if Frankenstein had an editor. Said editor would point out things like how stupid it would be to use a criminal's brain or heart. Bad juju. They'd notice that gaping hole where some organ or other should be. They might even be able to point out how to revive the creature without it turning monstrous.

Granted, that creature wouldn't have been as interesting to read about, but it would have LIVED. It would have been a miracle rather than a monster.

Writers, without a good editor, are creating monsters.

Now, you and your particular editor might not be a good fit. The editor might not "get" you. This happens, but it's no excuse for sending hate mail. It's no excuse for acting like a diva. Your art isn't art yet. It's palatable crap. You want--no, you deserve for it to be better than that, so why would you not take everything your editor says to heart?

Of course, there will be bits and pieces that require discussion and a few things that maybe you should fight for, but the author-editor relationship should be one of partners. Ask questions, get clarification, fight for that one scene that you know readers will love. But don't be an ass about it.

In fact--unless you are under mad deadlines which are rare with first round edits--don't do anything with your edits for at least 24 hours after you read them. Let them gel in your mind. Then read them again. Stuff that pissed you off at first glance might make more sense. And if they don't, give yourself another 24. Read the manuscript again with the editor comments in your mind and see if you can understand where the editor was coming from.

Then, take your questions, concerns, etc. and talk to the editor politely. They just spent a lot of time pouring over your work to help you make it better. Respect that. And choose your battles. There are darlings that will need to be killed in the editing process. Sometimes a lot of them. Be a professional and accept that fact.

24-48 hours. That's all. And it could be enough to keep you from turning a partnership into an adversarial mess. It could be enough to keep you from garnering a reputation as an author who is a bear to work with. Publishing isn't as big a world as people like to think--don't ruin your place in it with your ego.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Comfort IN, Dump OUT: Publishing Edition

So nearly two months ago, I rather unexpectedly lost my job.

Okay, it wasn't unexpected. Not entirely. It was a change in my situation about six months sooner than I'd planned and done in a most...spectacularly not-cool way. And so I entered crisis mode: I'm a single woman, I've been doing the job of six people to pay the bills, I wasn't ready to be in this position again, lalala.

And the thing is that it affected more people than just me. I oversaw a lot of books and, therefore, corners of people's careers. People who trusted me, people who depended on me, people who recognized I was the glue holding a lot together. I'd stayed in an unhealthy situation for a long time because I didn't want to abandon those people and I worried, of course, about what would happen to them.

But my first worry was more "OH MY GOD I AM GOING TO STARVE TO DEATH AND LIVE UNDER THE BRIDGE AND MY BABIES CAN'T GO TO THE VET AND AND AND AND--"

Email poured in. And it was rather remarkable that many of the messages of concern came from people also affected by this and their first question was, "Are you okay?" Their second, "Is there anything I can do?" Even when I tried to revert to Momma Bear mode, one of my fellow ELEW members here said, "I'm old and cranky and have lots of contingency plans--I'm more worried about you."

Weight, it lifted from my shoulders right in that moment.

First and foremost, before worrying about themselves, they expressed concern for me and I felt that much more able to face this ugly block of fear for my future. As it should be, because at the end of the day, despite many people being affected, it was my entire livelihood that was gone, whereas for others it was a small part of their overall living. My friends and colleagues (generally) recognized that I was the center of this ring.

What ring? Here you go:

The Silk Ring Theory
That is from this article on how to not say the wrong thing, specifically to someone who is diagnosed with something bad but it can work in any kind of a crisis.

When Susan had breast cancer, we heard a lot of lame remarks, but our favorite came from one of Susan's colleagues. She wanted, she needed, to visit Susan after the surgery, but Susan didn't feel like having visitors, and she said so. Her colleague's response? "This isn't just about you."

"It's not?" Susan wondered. "My breast cancer is not about me? It's about you?"

If you've ever been in or near that center ring, you know what it feels like. Your spouse is dying. You've been diagnosed with cancer. Your child is sick. Your mother died. You're dealing with a lot, you're in need of comfort and support, and many people--often well-meaning--manage to dump into your ring, leading you to feel like you have to comfort them rather than the other way around.

And the absurdity of this is that everyone has no shortage of people they can dump out to already; there is no need to go into the ring. In my case, people around me could (and did) complain to their spouses, to their friends, to their peers. If you look at that ring and find there is absolutely no one to bitch to--that everyone is more affected than you--congratulations! It is a GOOD THING to not have something horrible happen to you. So don't say anything.

I do not think the average person means to be douchebaggy in this way. I think it's that we automatically believe we're always in that center ring. It takes a lot of effort and self-awareness to realize we're not.

A good friend of mine has a debilitating chronic illness. Does it affect me? Yes. I worry for her, I get scared for her, I fret about how awful my life would be without her in it, I lament how powerless I feel because I can't help. Do I kvetch to her about this? Hell no. She's in the center of the ring when it comes to her illness. Would I kvetch to her husband about this? Again, no. He's closer to the center of the ring than I am. I kvetch to people outside the sphere of those affected by her disorder.

This is the ELEW blog, I know, so around we go back to publishing: crises happen all the damn time. To everyone.

Sometimes it's something relatively minor, sometimes it's something major. Deaths, illnesses, and other losses in our personal lives. Failed series, horrible reviews, low royalties on the less traumatic side of things. And before you open your mouth to bitch to someone, pause and think about where they fit in the level of rings around the situation.

As a reader, upon hearing an author you love is sick, I understand the thought of "What about that book of yours coming out next year?" Hell, even if they're not sick--I recall one author who gave birth and ended up needing more time off than expected, so her next book's pub date was bumped by an extra six months and readers damn near RIOTED about it. I get it, we are impatient for books we love. That's normal. But you don't say that to the author. Kvetch to fellow readers. Don't send whiny mail to the author needing reassurances about the book's release.

As a writer, when something happens with a publishing staff member you work with (your agent is ill and has to take another job, your editor leaves staff, etc), it's normal to be concerned about how it will affect you because it does affect you. But it's on you to figure out a game plan for yourself and not heap more worry upon them.

And also, as a writer, if an agent or editor mentions a death in their family, your first response to them shouldn't be, "What about the books in your slush pile?" (Nor should it be your second. Or your third. Maybe you shouldn't talk at all.)

It is reasonable to want answers when it relates to your career, I know. But choosing the time and manner in which you inquire helps an already ugly situation a hell of a lot, and choosing who you complain to also makes a difference.

And the thing is, I'll remember. I'll remember the people who were kind and supportive to me during a professional crisis, just like I remember the people who were kind and supportive during personal crises.

Before you type up that message to someone in a crisis or open your mouth to speak, pause and think, "Is this going to bring them comfort or am I expecting them to comfort me?" If it's the latter...just don't say it. Just don't.

You'll get your turn to be the center of a crisis, I promise. Publishing's full of them.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Just do it

We all have pet peeves when it comes to reading and writing. Over-used words, too much of a good thing. I personally don't believe in never-nevers. For instance, most of us have read Stephen King's On Writing, and were thereafter afraid to use an adverb for three years. But the complete elimination of adverbs doesn't work either, sometimes you need to say your character moved SLOWLY across the floor, and Stephen King can stuff it.

But yes, overuse of anything can be jarring. I read and edit a lot, and one thing that makes my eyeballs twitch is over-use of the word 'began'. And like the adverb thing, it's not a never-never, of course it needs to be there sometimes. But I think writers need to keep an eye on it, because I so often see things like 'He began to touch her' or 'She began to run' or 'He began to smile'. Well, did he finish smiling? Of course. So wouldn't it be more appropriate to simply say 'He smiled'?

He touched her. She ran. He smiled. If they did these things, then it stands to reason that at some point they began to do them.

I believe strongly in saying more with fewer words, as long as they're the right words. But sometimes the tone requires a bit more, and that's all right. Trust yourself as a writer, read your words aloud. You know when that adverb needs to be in there and when you can cut it. You know if the word 'began' needs to be there and when it doesn't, but sometimes these things become a habit we don't realize we're doing.

So pay attention to your character's actions, and watch out for too much of the B word. Because if you don't, the reader may begin to roll their eyes and close your book. And that'll be the end of your story.


Thursday, October 24, 2013

Baby Evil Writers 101: How Candy is like Stories

Baby Evil Writers 101: How Candy is Like Stories
Julie Butcher

It is almost Halloween minions. Rejoice! Now, not only do you have lovely costumed beasties running about the neighborhood to inspire you to greater heights of writing evil, you have CANDY!


Sugar, sugar, sugar, sugar suuuuuuuuuuggggggaaaaaaarrrrrrrrrrrrrr!

I’ve been thinking a lot about candy lately. (Okay, I do anyway but especially now that it is time to trick or treat.) And what I’ve figured out is that the lovely evil that is candy is a lot like working on your manuscript.

“Pish-tosh,” you say? Well, I am evil, and I can hear you, and you should be very afraid right now. It is so like candy. The reason your words are like chocolaty goodness is that after too many, we begin to feel ill. That’s right, as sick as a dog. Baby evil writers tend to hammer a point so hard that it sticks out the other side of the manuscript.

Plot points are lovely things until they turn into a railroad spike that you drive through my head. Most generally, readers are a smart bunch of cookies. When the bad guy kicks a dog, we know he is bad. Your main character should know he’s bad. Your hero should immediately PUNCH HIM IN THE FACE FOR KICKING A DOG. We don’t need him to pontificate on why it is a terrible thing to hurt animals.

Unless your target reading group is high functioning sociopaths, they get it. Don’t kill the flow of your scenes by stopping to explain the motives behind punching a bad guy in the face. You do not have to justify your hero’s actions.

Another reason your words are candy is that too much of a good thing is always bad. We tend to like our hero. We want him to be happy.  This is lovely and boring. Torture your darlings my evil minions. Give them just a minute glimpse of happy before the next big bad comes and kicks them in the teeth.

You may get your candy now but he doesn’t get any until the end of the book.


Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Why Writers Really are Freaks of Nature

It's true. Just wait.

So, you see this cute little meme popping around every now and then that reads: "If writers are not writing, Then the are thinking about writing." Except more flowy and less like a math theorem. "If the hypotenuse is congruent to the..." whatever. I gave up math at graduation. The point is, it makes us sound like the saddest sacks in the galaxy. We laugh at it. We recognize the truth of it, but we hope most people think it's a big joke.

Well, it's not. We are freaks. Obsessed with our jobs to the point of illness. I have proof. The following story is probably too personal and will no doubt reveal the pathetic state of my life to the universe, but it's most likely way too late to prevent that anyway. You all had your suspicions.
Anyway...

I was up late not writing by talking about writing with my best friend on gmail chat. This is not terribly relevant, except to lay the groundwork. I had been writing, most of the day, and I would, possibly, write more at any second.
She was moaning about a short story she'd started that had decided to turn into a long story on her....again. Okay, she's a writer, and therefore also a freak. This sort of thing really gets us riled up. It's like a halftime at the super bowl when the home team is down by more than a field goal. Or someone's bra pops off.
Except we were fully dressed.

So next she informs me that I need to write a class on how to keep short stories short. (This was almost an insult. I mean, what is so thin about my plots that keeps hers nicely thick and juicy, right?) But the idea somehow lodges in my brain even though I skid nicely over it and change the subject. In my defense, my current WIP is sneaking up on 80 thousand words, thank you very much.

So we keep talking about writing, and then do some writing, punctuated by chatting about what we wrote. (freaks) Then I go to bed.

Somewhere around way-too-early in the morning I interrupt the nice dream I'm having about a dark and mysterious stranger to have this dream about myself teaching a class about how to write a short story and keep it short. I dream it. The stupid class. Complete with synopsis, outline, examples and lesson plan. Instead of the good, perfectly normal, non-therapy-requiring, ordinary dream.
Kill me.

It gets worse. I wake up at six am. SIX...AM. I get up, willingly. Okay, I don't. I crawl to the couch and try to go back to sleep, but the stupid dream is there, hissing at me. Write it down, write it....write it down, you FREAK or you'll lose it!

Its' not a joke. In fact, we might qualify for some sort of government funded...oh. Never mind.

~Frances








Friday, October 18, 2013

Series Post: Meet the Monsters (Norse mythology style)

Who doesn't love a good giant?  The Norse certainly do.

Meet the Jötunn (pronounced yo-tunn) (plural is jötnar). Often called, in English, the Frost Giants. They're a race in the Norse mythological world. They live in one of the nine Norse worlds, Jötunheimr. They were banished there by the Norse gods, the Aesir, who didn't want them hanging out in Asgard.

Also, I should say from the beginning that they aren't necessarily giants as we think of giants in English. A more accurate translation from the Old Norse calls them devourers. If you ask me, that's a lot scarier than a plain old giant.

What do they look like?  Complicated. Sometimes they're humanoid, sometimes they're not (remember 2 out of 3 of Loki's kids?). Sometimes they have one head, sometimes they have more than one. One guy even had nine (in case you've noticed, the Norse LOVE the number 9). Sometimes they're described as hideous (claws, fangs, and deformed features, apart from a generally hideous size), sometimes they're beautiful (beautiful enough that some stories revolve around the Aesir forcing non-consensual relations with them).  Basically, as with much of the Norse mythology, there's a lot of conflicting accounts.

Some of the Jötunn are even fire giants, instead of frost giants. So there's a lot of variety in the Jötunn, just like any other race. Norse mythology is actually incredibly well developed. Lots of diversity among all of their races, not just the humans. But, back to the fire giants. In Ragnarok, it's their job to set fire to the world and burn it to the ground. Pleasant.

So let's talk about why they're scary. They're beings of chaos, destruction, and decay. Basically, they are trying to drag the world back to primordial chaos. The Aesir are trying to civilize the world (sometimes) and see the Jötunn as a threat to that.

Mind you, they aren't always the bad guys. They often interact with the Aesir and the Vanir (the two factions of Norse gods) and not always in terrible, horrible ways. Let's just say it's a complex relationship. Sometimes they even intermarry. Some have babies. Remember Loki's darling babies from last post? Yep, all of them call a Jötunn mommy dearest. Not only that, but most of the gods are descended from the Jötunn. Odin is half Jötunn, and Thor is 3/4 Jötunn.

I'm mostly only including the Jötunn in this monster mash because of the way popular culture. Although they get much more complicated backgrounds in Norse mythology, pop culture general tends to villify them, making them terrifying monsters. See the first Thor movie, for instance. But despite us calling them giants, they aren't necessarily the bad guys.

So that's the Jötunn. Giants. Complicated giants.



Thursday, October 17, 2013

Happy Birthday, Julie!

Gather round, both Baby Evil Writers and grown ones alike...for today we celebrate the glorious day Julie Butcher was born.


Julie is our Senior Pie Coordinator and Clubhouse Keeper. That's right, in addition to the charity work she does, raising as many children as I have cats, VAST amounts of writing, and loads of (evil, always evil) support she offers aspiring writers, SHE HAS A CLUBHOUSE. So now we bring cupcakes to the clubhouse door and bow, giving thanks to Julie and her Scary Mom Eyes for her huge contribution to the writing community.

On behalf of the Evil League of Evil Writers...Happy Birthday, Julie!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Why NaNoWriMo Is Making Me Sad

November is just over two weeks away, and along with turkey and Christmas decorations comes my favorite November activity: National Novel Writing Month. For those not already in the know, NaNoWriMo is an annual event in which a bunch (I'm not looking up numbers) of people each try to write 50,000 words in a month. For most published authors this is not a big deal as we write at that speed whenever we draft.

But... I might not manage it this year. (Sadz.)

To all the people who haven't won NaNo in the past and are sitting there, scowling at me, let me share a little background. I participated in my first NaNo in 2007 and won for a very shelved, dust gathering manuscript called Avalon's Return. It took me the rest of the year to finish that damn book, but I wrote 50,000 words in November (and no, it wasn't ridiculously long, I had just burned myself out).

Then 2008 came along and I did it again. In fact, I never stopped doing it. NaNo came to be my training ground for learning how to work to a deadline (personal or otherwise). I learned how to pace myself and plot enough to keep me sane but not so much that writing lost its sense of adventure. From 2007 through November 2012, I never lost NaNo. And that included as things that came with being a published author got in the way (edits/promo/submissions). I made a point of busting ass and hitting that goal.

Until this year.

It's the second half of October and I have nothing on my plot board for NaNo. Granted, I want to write Kiss of Eternity so I know the basics of what has to happen: war, sex, bloodshed, sex, mayhem, probably more sex, and tying everything up (not sex related exactly...then again it might be). But I don't have any of the details plotted out or balanced.

So why not hop on that right now? (Because I'm writing a blog post, duh...) Because I'm neck deep in edits on two books. Granted, both are novellas, but it's still edits on two books which means I won't have much, if any advance planning time (and I still need to re-read the other books in the series so I don't screw things up).

"Okay, okay," you say, "but you managed before. Now that you have six years of this under your belt, it shouldn't be a problem."

Maybe, and I hope and pray you're right, but... I might have failed to mention that I am looking at edits on a minimum of two other books (both novels this time) coming in November. And maybe further edits on the one I'm finishing up today. And maybe edits on another novella. All told, I could have edits coming in on up to four projects next month. *thud*

Which translates to NaNo potentially being a huge fail for me this year. And as awesome as it is to have All The Work pouring in (and it is, I'm not trying to be all poor-me here), I'm still melancholy that this might be the year that NaNo becomes--in essence--something I used to do.

Last month, when I was in the midst of another month of mad edits, I posted a Facebook update about all the projects I was working on. Another author (who liked the status) posted something immediately after about wishing she could just cough up books (that's paraphrasing, I'm not looking up an exact quote for multiple reasons). Pretty sure she meant it to make herself feel better (as many of her friends then raved about quality over quantity and whatnot), but it just made me sad for her that she doesn't get it.

There are all kinds of authors in the world (and even more kinds of writers). In the new digital marketplace, if you want to make a living off writing (and aren't naive enough to expect to be the next JK Rowling...or made a deal with the devil like some others) you have to bust ass. You have to build a backlist and make writing a J-O-B. One book a year doesn't cut it anymore. Much less the whole one-book-every-half-decade some of the old-school authors are trying.

There's a saying about (paraphrasing again) authors are always writing: they are either thinking about writing, taking notes about writing, planning to write, fixing their writing, or actually, you know, writing. This is true (and quite frankly, I'm getting twitchy at the moment about how long I've been working on this blog post instead of the edits), but if an author spends more time on the first three things than on the last two, they will never be prolific. That's just reality. To be prolific, you have to put the words on the paper and then fix them. And you have to have the commitment and drive to do so.

Which is why I'm still attempting NaNo this year, even though I will have far too many characters fighting for attention in my brain. It's not in me to shrink away from the challenge. Because I am that author who works in the mines long enough to cough up books. And I'll continue to do it until I can't anymore.

So hold on, November is going to be a bumpy ride!

Monday, October 14, 2013

Mwarriage


Mwarriage is what brings us here today. Or, rather, a discussion of it. To expand on this post at my blog from July, I'd like to reiterate something.

I do not think books are our babies.

That metaphor made sense to me at first, but the more I thought about it, the more it bothered me. I don't feel like I give birth to books; my process is one of excavation, chipping away pieces, discovering something full-formed beneath, uncovering layers. Further, I have manuscript graveyards with partially finished things, random ideas, and one does not leave children in partial stages of development scattered about the house, tucked in drawers and under the couch. I mean, one can, but it's not the sign of a good parent, now is it?

No, for me books are relationships.

Sometimes I see an idea or it sees me. We eye one another from across the room. Flirt with the possibility of it going further.

Or not...

I may write a few thousand words, sort of like going on a date to see if we're a match. Writing a book requires time and commitment--months if not years. Especially if you go the whole way and end up in a series. There will be good times and bad, days when you can't stand each other and question what the hell you're doing. Like all relationships, writing a book requires communication and a willingness to sit down and do the work.

Sometimes you get pretty far but there's no fixing things and you need a divorce. Sometimes separating for a few months and then you come back anew. There are lightning-fast relationships where just days pass between flirting, engagement, and eventually marriage as you know this one's for real and you can go the distance. Other books are a slow burn, going from friends to lovers over time.

I am a slutty, slutty polygamist. I have a lot of book relationships. I'm choosier now than I used to be but I still over-commit and struggle to give as much as I can to each of them. And no matter how committed I am, when a Shiny New Idea flaunts in my peripheral vision, I am right there. Part of getting older, though, is that I don't have patience for ideas that waste my time. I evaluate what comes to me, weigh it, and decide whether or not it's worth the investment.

The point of this post, however, goes back to a conversation I had with a writer friend the other day.

While my literary self is a polygamist, my human-dating-self is a monogamous, mate-for-life, gunshy dating newb. From a young age, I spent ten years with the same man, all during my formative dating years when I should've been figuring out who I am and who is compatible with me. So now I'm thirty-one with the dating-mind of a fifteen-year-old.


Part of the benefit of dating widely is developing an intuition for people, for knowing the signs of who is worth the time commitment from you, and what you think could grow into something long term.

So it is with books.

This is why I think it's important for writers to write a hell of a lot. To explore various ideas, to play, to spend time in different worlds. It's okay if those ideas don't go anywhere; one of the skills no one talks about but is absolutely necessary for a writer is learning to intuitively know what ideas are going to work long term and what ones should be discarded. To see past the Shiny New Idea to the core of the story and whether the temptation to play with it will be worth it in the long run.

I don't believe this is something we are born with; we learn by doing. We learn by making mistakes with The Wrong One and trying again. If you've been writing for a long time on only one thing and you look around at all of these other people with a couple different series on the go, it's not that you're broken or a one trick pony. It's just a skill you haven't fully developed yet, like every other writing skill.


The longer you've been at something, the harder it is, IMO, to let got and allow yourself the room to make mistakes. But it's that trial and error where we develop intuition and it requires the same time as learning grammar, pacing, structure, and everything else.

If this is an area you have trouble with, here is my suggestion: have a trial separation from your WIP. Then go on dates. Either try writing prompts or start playing the What If? game. If you have peripheral ideas, maybe commit to trying NaNoWriMo with them, or take a week where you write 1K a day on the idea. It doesn't have to go anywhere. Let me repeat that for emphasis: it doesn't have to go anywhere. This is a dating exercise for you and you alone, not publishers or crit groups or betas. Just you.

It's hard at first. Like going out on dates and meeting new people when you'd much rather sit home with your cats. But if you show up every day and give the other ideas a chance, rewiring your brain little by little, it'll not just open the possibility of loving other stories as much as you love your current one, but it'll give you skills you can take back to your current WIP. We learn something from every story we write just as we learn from each person we meet.

I'd go on but I'm afraid I can't; there's another Idea across the room. His lips are quirking into a flirty grin.

My heart is going pitter-patter. You guys, I think this might be The One...

Friday, October 11, 2013

The Suck

I recently started a book and thought I had the greatest idea ever. Fancy schmancy plot twists, cool, relatable setting, even a pair of identical twins, for Jeebus sake. The problem was, it sucked. I sucked. But I tried to keep pushing on. Because the last book I put out, which ended up being my most popular publication yet, had many false starts. I almost threw it out the window several times, but was prompted to keep going by a friend who liked the idea, so I did. And paid off.

And so, I pushed on with this last one, thinking it was just another case of the blockies. It was not. It just damn SUCKED. I eventually ditched it an started something new, and the world opened up again, the words began to flow, and I'm nearly finished with a book that makes me happy. So the problem is, how do you know if you're blocked, or if you just suck? How do you know if you should play through the pain, or toss that manuscript in the garbage disposal before it stinks the whole house up? I don't have a magical answer to this. I can only take hints from my recent experience in extreme suckage.

While attempting to write the story that I eventually trashed, I literally cringed at myself. My own story made me roll my eyes. There's a hint. The first chapter, though I thought it was genius for a short time, didn't fit into the genre I was trying to write in, so instead of realizing this wasn't going to work, I considered writing a prologue. A prologue that added nothing to the story aside from establishing the genre. SUCK. Then, I began to hate everyone, every character I came up with. Who were these dull, whiny people? Why couldn't they step it up? And that's when I realized. It's not them. It's me. Because they ARE me.

This wasn't one of those cases where I needed to merely push on, and the story would figure itself. That does happen a lot. That's why you so often hear other writers urging you to push on. But no. In this case, I genuinely sucked. I was writing a piece of toilet trash, and it was stinking the joint up.

The only good part was the validation I got when I began to write something new, something that worked so well I couldn't believe I ever thought writing was so hard. This new book worked, because it was right. I felt it down to my toes, and I didn't need any identical twins to spice it up. So how do you know? Are you just blocked, or do you have a case of the suckies? Only you can figure this out. Give it some serious thought before pushing on and playing through the pain. Be objective. But note this truth: If your work is making YOU cringe and roll your eyes, then it will damn well do the same to the reader. So monitor yourself, and if you find you're truly sucking, toss that bitch in the trash. You're a writer. There are always other stories in that noggin of yours.

Happy writing.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Baby Evil Writers 101: NaNoWriMo

Baby Evil Writers 101: NaNoWriMo
Julie Butcher


November is coming my sweet evil cherubs, and this is the month when you find out if you can hack the writing life. Their website says:

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) challenges you to write a 50,000-word novel, from scratch, in the month of November. It's a global, uproariously fun endeavor, where participants exchange advice and writing tips on the NaNoWriMo? website and in real life, with group write-ins held in coffee shops, living rooms, and libraries all around the world. In 2011, more than 250,000 people took part in National Novel Writing Month.

I know a lot of you have evil jobs and even more evil children of the corn running around your house and you think you absolutely cannot write 1, 667 words per day.

Well, guess what?

After you get the Supreme Contract of Malicious Publishing Goodness, you will have to do this. You will still have small children running about and mucking up the works, you will each day attend the job of food money and rent, and yet, you will still need to produce around 2k words per day to hold up your end of the Deal of Awesome and Sprinkles.

Get up off the floor these are just numbers. I did the math for you.

The very, very smart thing to do is to start thinking about your story right now. Outline that sucker or timeline if that is what you do. Make your character sheets and get your tags and traits ready for each character. Then on November 1st, you are ready to go. You won’t sit there wringing your hands and moaning. You’ll be EVIL INCARNATE! You’ll slam words onto the keyboard like this is what you were born to do
.
I do not suggest that you SEND THIS BOOK TO PUBLISHERS AND AGENTS DECEMBER 1st. You’ll need to edit and fine-tune this manuscript for at least 3 months, mkay? In my eyes, the purpose of NaNoWriMo is to convince yourself that you have ovaries made of brass, or iron, or something. You’ll learn everything from meal planning skills to getting the kids to bed in the fastest way possible. You’ll know you can do this as a stone cold fact.

This is important my evil darlings.

None of us know what we can accomplish until we try. So get all your colors and papers out and get ready.  I know you can do this
.

You can sign up at their website here. http://nanowrimo.org/

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

All in Your Head

I did a class awhile ago on clarity. We covered using the right word, making sure your sentences have the correct subject, your commas are in the right place, and that your characters are coming off the way you intended. Basically, instead of looking at things from a right or wrong standpoint, we covered how to use your tools to get the reader to have the reaction or understanding that you intended them to. 

An author spends a lot of time in their story. They write, and re-write, edit, revise and tear down and re-assemble it. Often they have most of it memorized by the time they’re through. Also often, they can get a little fuzzy about what is and isn’t actually down on the page.

Because we know so much about our story, about our characters and our world, it is easy to think that something is obvious when, in fact, it isn’t. It’s very easy to think that you have made something clear when the reader is not privy to a significant bit of information that would allow them to “get it.” Keeping in mind that the reader will not have any knowledge that we do not lay out on paper for them is harder than you might think.

We never want to over explain, but under explaining is an equally obnoxious mistake. (and one I am often guilty of!)

If something is explained in passing on page four, will the reader to remember it exactly on page 250? Some readers will, certainly, (super readers!) but a dash of reminder or subtle hint is often needed to bring your carefully lain fact back into the foreground for application.

As the author, you have insider information. It can be hard to know for certain whether your intent is working and your meaning is clear. But it is worth devoting some time to, in particular during revisions. "Am I saying what I mean to be saying," deserves at least one good pass through on its own. 

And of course, viva la beta reader who can stop us short and say, HUH? 
or "you keep using that word...I do not think it means what you think it means."

Bless them. 




Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Series Post: Ask Dr. Dina - Temperature

DISCLAIMER: I am not a doctor, nor do I play one on TV. I do not hold a current medical license or certification (I let them lapse because I no longer work in the medical field and don't intend to ever again). What I do have is an extensive medical background in various fields. Everything you read here is the result of either education, training, research and interpretation, or personal experience. The information in this post is not to be taken as a substitute for professional medical advice or examination. Seriously, if you're having an immediate medical problem and you're reading this blog for help, get off the damned computer and call an ambulance! 


Hello Evil Readers! I have returned!

Welcome back to the Ask Dr. Dina series of posts covering medical issues in your writing.

For those just joining us for this series, so far we've covered:

Loss of Consciousness

Altered Levels of Consciousness

Broken bones

Soft tissue injuries like sprains and strains

Bruises

Cuts and Punctures

Burns

and infection, which was divided into four parts: bacterialviral, fungal, and treatment.

Now that you're up to speed on all we've done so far, let's go on.

Today I want to talk about body temperature.

Humans are an interesting species. They're homeostatic creatures (remember science class? "Homeostasis" [loosely defined] = keeping things the same [stable] inside despite what's going on outside), which is important when it comes to things like body temperature.

What this means is that, no matter the weather, humans body temps need to stay about the same in order for them to function. Unlike reptiles ("cold-blooded" animals whose body temp is regulated by the environment they're in) , mammals (humans are mammals, in case you've forgotten) and birds (not mammals, in case you've forgotten) need their body temperature to stay at a certain level in order to survive. Too cold (hypothermia) or too hot (hyperthermia) and things go awry. Sometimes they get bad, sometimes they don't.

Let me explain.

Say you have your character trudging valiantly through frozen tundra. They're not properly dressed and their teeth are chattering from the cold and they are wandering around delirious.

Yeah, you might want to look to that. You see, teeth chattering and shivering stops after a certain degree of hypothermia. If your character is cold enough that they're shivering and their teeth are chattering, they're not, in reality, cold enough to be delirious. They're very cold and, while miserable, still in possession of their mental faculties, though they may not be as sharp as when they're not butt-cold. Those mental faculties might only be "fuck it's cold holy fuck oh my god shit shit shit it's freezing out here!" but their brain is still functioning. Delirium usually only occurs as hypothermia gets worse. Your mileage may vary.

Now, how cold are we talking about? Well, here are some numbers for you, directly from Wikipedia:

Normal human body temperature generally runs somewhere between 97.7–99.5 °F (36.5–37.5 °C) [Note – some guidelines increase this to 94–100 °F (34.4–37.8 °C) because again, your mileage may vary]. For example, my own personal temp runs somewhere around 97.6°F (36.4°C), so when I start getting chills/"running a temp" of 99°F (37.2°C), I have a fever. Why? Because my internal body temperature has gone up by two degrees, and that's at the threshold of "low-grade fever."

It's when things outside your normal happen (your homeostasis is disrupted) that stuff starts getting weird. Now, were my internal body temperature affected by those two degrees in the opposite direction, I'd be heading toward hypothermia. Again, I run about 97.6°F (36.4°C), so two degrees would put me at 95.6°F (35.5°C). Now, remember:

Hypothermia – temperature lower than 95.0°F (35.0°C).

Hypothermia is basically fancy medical speak for "the body can't warm itself faster than it's being chilled." (Remember that "homeostasis" thing? Yeah. The "stasis" part is being fucked up.) Warmth takes a lot of internal work, and when things outside get too much for the inside to keep up with (like, say, your wandering charrie out there in the cold) its grip on homeostasis starts to slip. By that reckoning, lowering my normal temperature by just two degrees puts me in the early stages of hypothermia.

What are those signs and symptoms?

(Note: "signs" are things that can be seen by others, while "symptoms" are things that are felt by the person affected.)

Signs of mild hypothermia may include shivering, cold to the touch, teeth chattering and so on. Obvious signs that someone is cold. Symptoms may include things like increased blood pressure, heart rate and respirations (this is the body working harder to warm itself – the heart beats faster and harder to get more blood out to the cold bits, and so on). There might be a bit of confusion mentally as well, but that's getting down into the more moderate version.

Moderate signs include more violent shivering, slurred speech, slow movement, stumbling, obvious coordination issues, clear confusion/disorientation, and pallor, while lips, toes, fingers, and ears take on a bluish tint. People in this stage can get really pissy too ("combative"), because hey…wouldn't you be pissed off if you were cold and everyone was in your face and you didn't know why?

Severe hypothermia (we're talking 82 °F [28 °C]) is when the person can barely speak, move, or think. Any skin exposed to the cold is blue and looks swollen, walking is all but impossible, and if they have any kind of mental ability at all, they do weird shit like try and hide in small spaces and take off their clothes. (The "getting naked" thing is really common in severe hypothermia, and is called "paradoxical undressing." You'd think when you're cold you'd want more clothes on, but for some reason, something short-circuits and your brain confuses cold with hot and you start getting naked, exposing your body MORE to the cold, so…yeah. That's why it's called "paradoxical" – because it makes no damned sense.) The thing about severe hypothermia is that it's tough to get back from. Severe hypothermia is what we call "freezing to death." No, really. I mean it. Your core temp dips below 85 °F (29.4°C), that's a long trip to make back. I know ten degrees doesn't sound like a whole lot, but really…in the grand scheme of things it is for homeostatic creatures.

Temperature regulation is critical for our species. When it's out of whack for whatever reason, it gets bad. Too hot is just as bad as too cold. Too hot in the fancy medical speak is called "hyperthermia." (See how fun that is? "Hypo" = low/less/below/under/beneath/down, "hyper" = high/more/excessive/above/beyond – you get it)

Hyperthermia is when body temperature is above 99.5–100.9 °F (37.5–38.3 °C) [Note: hyperthermia is different than fever, which is called "pyrexia." The difference is the cause of the temperature change. Fever is an internal change in temperature while hyperthermia is outside temps elevating it, like heat stroke.]. Hyperthermia is the exact opposite of hypothermia in that the body absorbs more heat than it can dissipate (instead of more cold than it can deal with).

Ever had heat stroke/heat exhaustion? Congratulations – you've experienced hyperthermia. (Some drugs can do this too, as can certain hormonal/medical conditions, but we're not going to get into that.)

Signs of hyperthermia include redness, flushing, hot dry skin (no sweating), nausea, vomiting, and headaches. Maybe some dizziness and fainting if the affected person gets up or is moved too quickly.

In cases of severe hyperthermia, it might seem like the person is drunk off their ass. They're slow to respond, confused when they do, are aggressive or grouchy, maybe even hostile. Don't worry – it's just the heat affecting their brain. Literally. This is a bad, bad situation. They need to be rehydrated and cooled down before their brain cooks itself to death (and the brain is a sensitive organ). If they fall unconscious, it may be too late.

Now I'm not going to get into treatment for these things now. That's another post in itself and this thing is already really long. Let's talk a little about fever then we'll call it.

Loads of things can cause a fever – a lot of exercise in a hot room, eating certain things, wearing too many clothes (remember that "paradoxical undressing" thing? Yeah.), medications, infection, humidity…and lots, lots more. I could do a post itself on fever, but here's the gist:

Fever by the numbers-

Fever is a body temperature greater than 99.5–100.9 °F (37.5–38.3 °C). We've all had a fever. It's miserable, and while you're hot, you actually feel cold sometimes. This is because your body is trying hard to get rid of whatever it is that's screwing with your normal thermoregulation, be that a virus or bacteria or whatever, and since your temperature fluctuates, the constant change makes you feel hot, then cold, and so on.

A little fever won't hurt you. In most cases, fevers are actually good, because they're working on your side to get things (your thermoregulation) back to normal (homeostasis). It's when fevers get out of hand that they become a problem.

Hyperpyrexia (excessive fever) is when the body temperature is greater than 104–106.7 °F (40.0–41.5 °C). This is getting into the "brain damage" area. Temps this high can cause seizures (usually in children but not exclusively) and even death if they're not dealt with immediately.

So, if you have your character trudging through a hot desert (or even just a hot sunny day in the city, where all that heat is reflected off tall buildings and so on) without any water for hours, they're going to be pretty parched if they're not going to suffer the effects of heat stroke/exhaustion. (Also, side note – you don't want to rehydrate them too quickly or they'll just vomit it back up which just adds to the "liquid loss" issue. Further, your character can't sweat if they haven't had anything to drink to sweat out, so…yeah. Research, people!)

That concludes our discussion on temperature. Well, actually, this does:




Questions about medical issues with your writing? Leave them in the comments below and I'll get back to you as soon as I can. (THESE MUST APPLY TO FICTIONAL SITUATIONS ONLY. I AM NOT YOUR DOCTOR, NOR A SUBSTITUTE FOR ONE.)

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Series Post: Meet the Monsters (Norse Mythology Style)

So, I wrote a couple books a few years back about Norse mythology which left me with a bunch of random knowledge that I am now going to share with you.

In the spirit of the month of October and approaching Halloween, I figured I'd start with the monsters.

Everyone has heard of Loki, right?  I'll probably cover him at some later point, but for today, we're more concerned with the monsters he conceived. Yep, that's right, Loki is the baby daddy of some series Norse monsters.

Most records show Loki as the father of three children, at least with common mother: the wolf Fenrir, the serpent Jörmungandr, and the female Hel. The baby mama is a giant, or jötunn, Angrboða. The gods were given prophecies for all three of the children, partially due to their mother, but largely due to the fact that they're Loki's kids.

Fenrir:

Talk about a monster - he's a monstrous wolf. He's also preordained to kill Odin in the fight at the end of the world, Ragnarok. Yep, that's right, he kills the Allfather. Of course, he later gets killed himself, but that doesn't stop him from being one of the most feared creatures in the Norse pantheon.

In fact, he's so feared and the foretellings of what he's supposed to do, the gods decide to bind him. They try a couple of times, and each time, Fenrir breaks free, no matter how strong the chain is. So the gods commission an unbreakable chain from the dwarves, known as Gleipnir, which is thin as a silken ribbon, but stronger than any iron chain.

The gods lured Fenrir in by praising his strength (after all, hadn't he broken the last two chains), but Fenrir was suspicious and didn't trust that the gods would release him from Gleipnir, if he couldn't break free. As a show of faith, the god Týr placed his hand in Fenrir's mouth. And once Fenrir figured out he was chained, yep, he bit off Týr's hand at the wrist.

But even Gleipnir wasn't enough to keep Fenrir down - he tried to bite the gods and as a result, they had to stab a sword through his mouth.

So now he lies there, sword in mouth, bound, waiting for his release so he can kill Odin. Friendly puppy wolf, right?

Jörmungandr (that's a mouthful, right?):

Also known as the World Serpent or the Midgard Serpent (Midgard being the Norse realm we know as Earth), this bad boy is sea serpent. The gods took Jörmungandr and tossed him into the ocean on Earth (Midgard). There, left to his own devices, Jörmungandr grew large enough to encircle the Earth and bit his own tail. I bet he doesn't snuggle in Loki's lap.

The story about Jörmungandr is that when he lets go of his own tail, that's when the world ends. Oh, and he's Thor's arch-nemesis. Not bad for a big snake, right?

What happens is this: Jörmungandr lets go of his own tail and rises out of the ocean and poisons the sky. Thor will kill Jörmungandr, but only walk nine paces after doing so before collapsing, killed by the serpent's venom. Yeah, locked in a death struggle, they both die.

Of Loki's three kids, the least is written about the serpent, but it seems like ending the world and killing Thor is enough to qualify him as a monster.

Hel:

Hel is the adorable little sister of those two delights above. She rules over a realm of the same name, a land of the dead (hence the whole "going to hel" thing.)

She sounds like a charmer. Apparently half of her body is normal, and the other half is dying and decayed. Of course, some other translations just say she's half flesh colored, half black, so who knows. Either way, I'm guessing she isn't going to win Miss Norway. At one point, she's described as "rather downcast and fierce-looking."

Of the three, she's actually the least monstrous. All she does is rule over the realm of Hel, which, for the Norse, is the realm where those who died of sickness or old age go. Still, it doesn't sound like that cheery of a place:  Hel has "great Mansions" with extremely high walls and immense gates, the entrance threshold is named "Stumbling-block"

Hel is written as having a dish called "Hunger," a knife called "Famine," and servants whose names translate to "lazy walker." All in all, not the place (or person) with whom to spend a relaxing weekend.

She's not going to be counted out of the fight in Ragnarok either. Although, unlike her brother's, she doesn't get to kill any of the big  names, it is reported that when Loki arrives on the field of battle, Hel and all of her people (aka the dead in her realm) will come with him. That's a significant army to bring to the table.

And those are only a few of the monsters the Norse keep locked up in their vaults. Fun, right?

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Funny, You Don't Look Like a Hero


Dear people who ask me to write about you,

I'm flattered, really. It's nice to know you think that much of my work that you want to be part of it. But please....stop.

I made the mistake of using "real" people as character models once, and I wish I could take it back...for a lot of reasons. First, it seems as if since I did it for one, now I'm supposed to do it for everyone. *whimper* More than that though, I realized it made me second-guess character behavior. It didn't matter that character X was bisexual, not when I wondered how the real life model would feel about it. (And no, not because there is anything wrong with being bisexual. Simply because sexuality is a complicated enough topic as a teenager without your friends questioning you because of something in a book.) I battled with that for a long time before sticking to the original plan, and it's a decision that still worries me. Plus, I do bad things to my characters. I kill their loved ones, chop off their lbs, scar them for life-- emotionally and physically. Why would you want that?

This goes double (or more) for the men who keep poking at me to make them heroes in my romance novels. No. Just no. Not only would it mean I have to look at you as a potential love interest through the entire writing process (which, trust me, will not endear either of us to your significant other), it means I have to overlook all your faults long enough to understand why someone else would overlook them. 

And if I AM involved with you? That's almost worse. I have to take you...and make you better. Your job? Sorry, that doesn't fly. You need to be worth a lot of money. And don't get me started on your anatomy. I have to design the "perfect" you. That means at some point, I'm going to start comparing. Do you really want to compete with your richer, better endowed, more muscular you? Really? 

Trust me when I say that if you are my friend, there's a decent chance some little thing you do or say will make it into a book at some point. Because I have funny-ass friends who make me laugh all the time. They are far funnier than I am.

As for romantic heroes? You want that, then be that. There's a guy (whose name I can't even remember) who looked at his wife with so much adoration that I wanted to be her. There's another guy I know (whose name I do recall but won't share) who has so much charisma that he makes a girl feel like the entire world narrows down to her when he talks to her. Those guys make me want to write them just by being themselves. 

You want to be immortalized? There you have it. Be witty. Be romantic. Be a character, and you're in whether intentionally or not. But don't try to score a spot by telling me it's okay and that you really wouldn't mind too terribly if my next vampire looked and acted just like you. Because pretty much from that point forward, my plan will be to kill you in the most violent way possible--fictionally of course. 

Much love,
Me

P.S.--If you actually just want me to kill you sometime, be on the lookout. I routinely ask for volunteers to die when I hit sweetness and romance overload and just have to write a death scene before I can move on. 

P.S. again--Disclaimer time: I occasionally auction off character names for charity. This is a rare thing and it is generally for minor characters only. Don't have the qualities mentioned above or really just want to see your name in print? Be prepared to put your money where your mouth is. (And no, I'm not the only author who does this. We'll do a lot of things for a good cause.)

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