Lightning and the Lightning Bug

Sunday, August 25, 2013
We've had a lot of lightning in Tucson lately, especially last Thursday afternoon. After taking a break, the monsoon returned in earnest. I was hurrying back from the grocery store when I saw no less than five bolts of lightning stroke from cloud to ground at the same time in the Rincon Mountains. This weekend, moisture from Tropical Depression Nine-E is supposed to flow up from Baja California and give us the biggest chance of rain all season.

Monsoon season is one of the unique things I love about Tucson. In other places I've lived, a day was either rainy or sunny, and it was rainy or sunny for the whole region. Monsoons are totally different. The thunderstorms that pop up every July and leave in September are spotty. I've had rain in my front yard and sunlight in the back. I'll watch a storm darkening the sky to the south, the black clouds moving closer and closer, and then it will skirt my neighborhood and pass by with a few rumbles of distant thunder and splats of raindrops on the windows. When one does pass over, it is intense. The rain sheets down, there's often hail, and near hurricane force winds bend trees and bushes. Roads turn into rivers and, almost as quickly, dry again once the rain passes.

It's hard to believe that monsoon season is coming to an end. By this time, according to my very ambitious planning at the beginning of the year, Deliver Us From Evil (yes, I've decided on the title for Community of Faith Book 2) was supposed to be published. I was supposed to be well into writing Screaming Blue Murder (the working title for the first book my second cozy mystery series) and looking at revisions for that one in October or November. Things don't always work out the way you planned.

When I last left you, I had made the decision to use Holly Lisle's How To Revise Your Novel class to work through the revisions for Deliver Us From Evil (DUFE). This week I finished the worksheets for the first lesson or, as Holly optimistically calls it, Week 1. It took me two and a half weeks to do those 1B worksheets because the first week is re-reading your entire novel and noting in detail what went wrong and what went right with your world, your plot, and your characters. This is a good thing because it makes you really pay attention. It's a bad thing because it takes so long to do. Now, in case you think I'm working extraordinarily slowly, let me reassure you that I'm not. Many people take a lot longer than I did to get through the 1Bs.

Naturally, this week Dean Wesley Smith had to post his updated version of Killing the Top Ten Sacred Cows of Publishing--#3 Rewriting. As I've posted before, DWS is a firm believer in Heinlein's rules. He contends that rewriting kills your originality and your voice.

There are other writers who believe differently. For example, Mark Twain said The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug. James Michener said I'm not a very good writer, but I'm an excellent rewriter. In a longer quote, James North Patterson said:
"Writing is rewriting. A writer must learn to deepen characters, trim writing, intensify scenes. To fall in love with the first draft to the point where one cannot change it is to greatly enhance the prospects of never publishing." 
If you read Dean's posts carefully, you'll see that there are processes he goes through that very much resemble rewriting. One of these is what he calls redrafting. If his first reader (usually his wife, Kris Rusch) tells him the story sucks, he'll rewrite the story without referring to the first draft. He'll start fresh and write a second first draft of the story he has in his head. That keeps it coming from the creative side of the brain rather than the critical side.

The second process is something he and Kris call "cycling." As I understand it, this means going back into earlier parts of your draft as you write it to add in things that aren't there. (I don't know if it also means removing things that are there and shouldn't be or not.) This prevents such errors as having "Mary grabbed the carving knife from the kitchen counter" in a climactic scene and not having had a knife on the kitchen counter earlier. Otherwise, it sounds as if the knife magically appeared just when Mary needed it.

Now, both DWS and Kris Rusch have been professional writers for decades. Dean admits to buying into what he calls "the myths" for something like the first seven years of his career. Interestingly enough, Holly Lisle says it took her seven years to learn how to write a novel, which is where her How To Think Sideways and How To Revise Your Novel classes came from. She wanted to help new writers from having to spend seven years learning the lessons she did, just like Dean does. Now I'm wondering if there isn't something about that seven years which is just the time you need to learn how to do what you want to do. It sure explains why there are so few novelists earning a living at writing.

I'm figuring out my process. There are so many things they don't teach you in academic writing classes.  I was looking at MFA programs recently (no, I'm never going to get an MFA, but I'm curious as to what value they add) and determined that most of them spend a lot more time reading than writing. The fiction writing classes usually say that you are going to write one or two short stories or the beginning of a novel.

The beginning of a novel is easy. Ask any number of wannabe writers who have started one. It's getting all the way to the end that's the challenge. Even when you've got a beginning, middle, and end, it's probably not going to climb to the top of the New York Times bestseller list. Those of us who are perfectionists have a particularly difficult time getting through the first draft because the more you write, the worse what you're writing seems to be. There's a temptation to go back and fix stuff before moving ahead. But you probably don't know what you should fix until you get to the end and know everything that happens in the story. Everything that you want to keep, that is. That's why NaNoWriMo is so great. It teaches writers to get to the end and not worry about it being perfect.

I've spent a lot of time studying plot structure. I've taken classes and have several books on it and read blog posts about it. I've probably done enough of that now. I know the basic plot formats, what a plot point is, and how a story (unless it's a thriller) should ebb and flow through scene and sequel. Or not. There's a faction that holds that sequels aren't interesting any more. But my point is that, without thinking about it, I'll probably have a twist/plot point at the end of act one, another one in the middle of act two (or the end of act two if you're thinking a four act structure instead of a three), one at the end of act two, and one at the climax, without even consciously thinking that's what they are as I'm writing a draft.

On the other hand, I still need to work on what Mark Twain called the lightning or the lightning bug. I sent the first three chapters of Faith, Hope, and Murder to three different contests because, although I thought I had a solidly constructed plot, I knew there was something missing. One contest judge nailed it. She (or he--they don't give you the names of the judges) said it read like it had been workshopped to death, like all the emotional charge had been taken out of it. Which was amusing, because I hadn't workshopped it at all. I'd barely had critiques done.

But that told me that Margie Lawson's Empowering Characters' Emotions was just the class I needed to make that novel what it needed to be. Since I've only used her techniques once, I mostly have no idea whether the first draft of DUFE has anadiplosis or anaphora or asyndeton. Probably not, although there were some instances of these things I didn't know the name of in my first draft of FH&M. I'm pretty sure it doesn't have backloading of power words. But I know how to go back and rewrite sentences so they do have those qualities. With any luck, when I draft my next novel, I'll be able to use those techniques without thinking about them. More likely, I'll use some instinctively but still have to consciously add in others.

It was a year and a half ago that I decided to indie publish Faith, Hope, and Murder. While I'd written several novels before, this was the first one I knew was worth publishing. I guess that means I've only got five and a half years to go until I really know how I write a novel.

Photo Credits:

Patience and Popcorn Kittens

Sunday, August 04, 2013
If patience is a virtue, I'm afraid I'm not very virtuous. Oh, sometimes it seems like I'm very patient, but that's an illusion. I tend to take a long time to make decisions. I'll weigh pros and cons. I'll evaluate the cost, if it's something involving money. Or the cost in time, if that's what's involved. But, once I've made up my mind, I want it now!

Silly me, I thought I'd have so much time after I retired! Hours of time. Days of time. Weeks of time. Can somebody please tell me where it goes?

I've been having a severe attack of what Kris Rusch calls Popcorn Kittens:

I have so many ideas, so many things I want to do, I can hardly decide what to do first! Just like the kittens in the video, my ideas are hopping around inside my brain. I want to try writing short stories. I want to learn how to do my own ebook covers. I want to exercise every day. I want to increase my blogging to three times per week. I want to read other people's blogs and comment on them. I want to tweet more regularly. This website needs updating. I joined Google Plus, but I don't know how to use it. Having seen several Pinterest boards this week, I'd love to set up one of my own. Do I take the plunge and join Facebook? And a newsletter. I want to add a signup for a newsletter. Which means creating a newsletter.

Then there's the other mystery series I want to start. Although I plan on writing the first draft during NaNoWriMo in November, there are so many other things I can do right now. Character sketches. Maps of my fictional town. Plot cards. Research!

I love research. Which brings to mind that time travel romance historical science fiction thing that's been in the back of my mind for years. I have four or five history books I've bought that I need to read to get the background right for that story.

Reading! I l-o-v-e reading! What do I read next? The first book in a new series by my friend Sheila Connolly? It came out months ago and I haven't read it yet. The next Outlander book? There's a new one of those out soon and it's being made into a series on Starz that will start in 2014. I really need to catch up on all the Outlander books. More indie published books? I so want to read books by the people I've met online, get an idea of what kinds of books are selling in the indie market. (Aside from erotica.)

And, having just finished the first draft of the second Community of Faith Mystery, I want to publish it. Everyone says that the secret to a successful indie publishing career is to publish a lot of books, preferably in a series, and publish them often. With that in mind, I made a plan at the beginning of the year that included publishing not only this book, but the first in that new mystery series, during 2013.

It's not going to happen. In fact, it's starting to look like Book Two won't see the Amazon store shelves until 2014. That makes me feel like a balloon with a slow leak. Just the thought of it being that long is deflating.

But, even as I celebrated writing the final two scenes this week, I grieved because this book is so broken. That's not unusual for a first draft. Although some few writers write "The End" and mean it, most of us wind up with a big, steaming pile of poo on the first go round. The essence of a book is in there, but we have to dig in and find it. And then we have to make it shine. My feeling about Community of Faith Book Two (I'm not even confident enough in my working title to name it here) is that revision is going to be overwhelming.

Then, serendipitously, Holly Lisle announced the relaunch of her How to Revise Your Novel class this week. Remember what I said about decisions up at the top?

This has been a week of trying to decide. Do I really want to take another writing class? The answer to that one is almost always yes, but after the major disappointment I had with the last class I took, I swore I'd be pickier about spending time or money on another one. In particular, I would never take another class from an unpublished writer. Okay, Holly passes that test. She's published over thirty novels, both traditionally and now independently.

But Holly's classes are long. And hard. And they cost more than the thirty or forty dollars of most online classes. And I stalled out on How To Think Sideways because, although she claims to be left-brained, she's a lot more right-brained than I am. Some of her concepts just didn't gel for me.

On the other hand, you definitely get your money's worth. She gives you lessons and worksheets and videos and specific homework and a support forum and lifetime updates. And I know from having taken HTTS that you get more long after the class has ended.

And I know what really scares me is that I'll have to take a serious look at what I've written and own up to all its flaws. Which is both good news and bad news. It's too easy when you're doing revision on your own to rationalize and tell yourself that your info dump isn't boring, it's really necessary, and you're going to just leave it in there. Or that it's okay to have absolutely no conflict in this one scene. After all, don't my readers want to know what happens at a volunteer food pantry? Or that these walk-on characters are so interesting that readers will ignore the fact that they never show up again. Right.

Most of all, the class is 22 weeks long. I know, if it's like How to Think Sideways (and I have no reason to believe it won't be), it will probably take longer than a week to do each lesson. There's a lot of thinking and a lot of work in each of them. There's the sitting at the dining room table with sheets of paper and index cards and notebooks and scribbles and trying to figure out how to make this all fit, followed by the getting up and pacing and scratching your head. And, with four months of classes and work on my book, coupled with taking the month of November to draft the other book I want to start, there's no way I'll have a publishable book before next year.

I don't want it to take that long. But sometimes that's what it takes. I checked before I started to write this and confirmed that the first document I have for Faith, Hope, and Murder is from April, 2008. That's almost five years before I published it. The earliest date on some of my research documents for Book Two is October, 2011. So I'm working significantly faster. :::grin:::

I've decided that it's better to take the time to put out a good book than to hurry up and put out a not-so-good book. In fact, by the time you read this, I'll have signed up for How to Revise Your Novel.

And now I want to run right out to Office Max and buy looseleafs and notebooks and index cards and all the other goodies you get to play with during the revision class. I want to start NOW!

Free Fiction Friday - The Fat Farm

Friday, August 02, 2013
Since I've finished my novel first draft and am about to begin revision, I won't have a novel to work on for a while. I know that I hate not writing anything new for months at a time, so I've decided to try my hand at short stories this month. This is a skill I've wanted to develop for a long time, but always had the excuse of I don't write short stories! Well, now I do. Maybe. Let me know what you think.

The Fat Farm

I was starving.

Not your dinner-is-at-eight-and-I-skipped-lunch-to-save-up-for-it starving but I’m-going-to-bite-off-my-arm-and-gnaw-on-it starving. Starving like my entire intestinal track was empty. I was so hungry my mid-section ached.

It was all for a good cause, of course. My tenth high school reunion was in three months, and to say I’d let myself go was an understatement. Working in the research library of a major law firm will do that to you. The librarians were expected to work the same long hours as the attorneys, only with less pay. I already had an appointment at the optometrist to get fitted for contacts to replace my Coke-bottle glasses. But, if I was going to be able to wear a slinky cocktail dress and impress Clark Harrington, I was going to have to lose a few pounds.

Okay, more than a few.

The magazine ad sounded like the answer to my prayers. Lose up to one hundred pounds in only ten weeks! Not that I had a hundred pounds to lose, mind you.

Maybe half that.

I took all my vacation days, added a few weeks unpaid leave, and pilfered my savings account, leaving just enough for the reunion—and to buy that slinky dress. I headed for The Fat Farm.

What was different about this program was that it really was a farm, built inside a huge greenhouse-like thing. We were going to raise all our own fruits and vegetables, cook our own healthy meals, and have coaches to encourage us to exercise. We wouldn’t be allowed outside the greenhouse, so there would be no temptations. And, after ten short weeks, we’d emerge thin and toned and ready to take on the world. Or in my case, Clark Harrington.

The first glitch in my plan occurred when they confiscated my Volcano Bites.

I’m addicted to them. They’re these little chocolate brownie thingies with a center of gooey fudge that’s supposed to be the lava of the volcano. Most of the ingredients listed on the package are long chemical names that no one can pronounce. But they taste soooo good. I knew I couldn’t survive a whole ten weeks without them, so I stuffed a couple of bags in my suitcase. For rewards, you know. Like when I lost my first ten pounds.

I guess that had been tried before, because the coaches searched everyone’s suitcase on the way in.

I could deal with that. I told myself it would just make them taste better when I got out.

The magazine ad didn’t mention that our diet would not include a whole lot other than fruits and vegetables. Every other day, we might, if the chicken-gods were kind to us, have a boiled egg for breakfast. A half glass of goat milk most days. On Sunday, we’d get chicken. One chicken split among ten people. If you weren’t careful, you could finish off your portion in two bites. I learned to cut it into very small pieces and eat them one at a time.

They kept telling us we were getting plenty of nutrients. They had slides that proved it scientifically. We got to see them at least once a week. I don’t care how many berries you get for dessert, they’re just not the same as Volcano Bites. By week six, we were tossing strawberries at the screen, leaving little red marks all over it. It looked like the slides had measles.

At least sleeping was no problem. If I’d thought I put in long hours at the law firm, I was wrong. Research was a vacation compared to farming. I have a whole lot more respect for farmers now. Preparing the soil, planting, watering, fertilizing, weeding, and harvesting before you could even start to cook took a lot more effort than I realized. And then they wanted us to exercise.

Killian was a slave driver! She’d get you on a treadmill or exercise bike and make you go fast. Very fast. Supersonic fast.

I fell into bed every night, exhausted and wondering how just one little teeny-weeny Volcano Bite could hurt after that.

I dreamed of Volcano Bites. I could taste that wonderful squish of chocolate when you bit into them. I could smell them in the air. I could feel the cake in my mouth, the softness working its way into a silky mass on my tongue before I swallowed it. I wanted to cry when I woke up and my mouth tasted like morning breath instead of chocolate.

Today was the last day. By this time, I’d had to put two more notches in my belt to hold up my pants. When it was my turn to step on the scale, I almost cried tears of joy. Forty-seven pounds! Slinky dress, here I come!

But first, necessities. I hit the search function on the GPS in my car and found the nearest convenience store. Who cared if it was five miles in the opposite direction from home? It had Volcano Bites!

I screeched to a halt in the parking lot, opened the car door, and ran inside. I didn’t even bother to shut the car door. I made a beeline for the snack aisle. No Volcano Bites! I frantically pushed aside the cookies and packages of chips, sure there must be ONE package of Volcano Bites hiding on the shelf. No luck.

Desperate, I ran to the checkout counter. “Volcano Bites?” I gasped.

The man behind the counter shook his head. “Nope. Didn’t you hear?”

“Hear what?”

“Seems sales dropped so much in the past couple of months, they couldn’t afford to stay in business.”

And then I did cry. I not only cried, I sobbed. Right there at the checkout counter. What did it matter to gain a slinky dress if I’d forever lost Volcano Bites?
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A Clash of Kings
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