Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Halfway through 2010

Here we are halfway through the year, and I have made exactly zero sales in 2010. I was kind of hoping I'd get one of those miraculous last-second saves before midnight, but it's after ten and all I've gotten today is one rejection. Still, that's better than nothing, especially since half my Duotrope listings are red.

I have to work tomorrow even though it's Thursday. Usually I have Thursdays off, but this week has been really weird schedule-wise. I get Friday off, though, and Monday. Unfortunately, on Saturday when almost everyone in the United States is celebrating July 4, I'll be working. Dammit.

My mom started writing a new story today. It's titled "We Are the Members of the Sunshine Club. We Are Spies, and Mean Girls." It's a little wordy, sure, but why can't I come up with titles that awesome?

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Useless Week

This week has been a bad one for writing, in that I have not done any. Well, I did write about a page and a half on Adventures in Zoology, but that barely counts. I haven't even done much reading even though I'm reading (and enjoying hugely) Pierre Pevel's swashbuckling adventure The Cardinal's Blades. Heck, I haven't even posted here in a week.

On the other hand, I have pulled out an old story and started to edit it. It's not as bad as I remembered, but it does need a lot of work. Man, I was wordy and repetitive back when I wrote that thing (back in 2004); mostly I'm cutting. Since the story was only about 46,000 words to start with, I've got yet another useless novella to try and place.

I think I'll go read The Cardinal's Blades. And have some peach ice cream, which makes everything better.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Books everywhere, lists everywhere

I signed up on Goodreads a few months ago, and now it seems like half the people I know are on it too. That's cool. Since I've already catalogued pretty much my entire library on LibraryThing, though, I decided to just use Goodreads to list small press published books.

Of course, now it looks like I'm a weirdo whose library consists mostly of books about the occult. Hey, I can't help it that small presses are more likely to have interesting niche books on unusual topics!

I'm now 30 books into my read-50-books-in-2010, and 6 books into my read-10-books-published-by-small-presses. This time last year I had only read 25 books, so I'm doing pretty darn good. Now I just need to write more.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Writing the urban fantasy heroine

I like urban fantasy pretty well and I've been reading a lot of it in the last couple of years. I'm seeing some unwelcome trends, though, particularly with how female main characters are being portrayed.

If you're not familiar with urban fantasy, a big chunk of the genre is given over to books where a tough woman--often connected in some way with law enforcement--investigates a crime against or by a supernatural being. Usually the woman has some kind of supernatural ability, too: she can work magic, or she's a werewolf, or she's half-fairy/half-human, or she might just be gifted by being immune to a vampire's charms or being able to see through magical illusions. Think fantasy/crime thriller mix and you're on the right track.

Lately, though, many of the heroines I read have been, well, wimps. In a subgenre that is practically based on strong central female characters, it should be hard to find a wimpy heroine, but they're popping up everywhere. I don't know why, but I'd like to address a few pitfalls that I've been noticing.

1. Rescue me. Again.
I'd get pretty tired of a book where the main character never does anything wrong and never has to be dragged out of a messy situation by another character. On the other hand, heroines who have to be rescued constantly are even worse. Authors! When you've finished a draft of your new urban fantasy, please go through and actually write down in a little notebook how many times your heroine gets pulled out of the fire versus how many times she is able to save herself. If she doesn't save herself at all, go back in and give her a spine. At the very least, she should manage to save herself and possibly the world at the climax of the book. If a friend has to step in at the last minute to help her, make sure you've shown us earlier in the book that the heroine can get things done on her own too.

2. Angst and the modern girl.
Most heroines are either working through some current issues or still smarting from old scars. That makes characters interesting. Be careful, though: I've read a lot of heroines lately who whine constantly about how awful their lives are even when they are actually not doing so badly, and I've read almost as many heroines who seem to forget all about their problems until the plot requires them to give way to angst (usually so they can be rescued). It's a fine line to write. Treat angst like salt in a dish: too much and it's inedible, too little and it's bland.

3. Give me something to work with.
This is a problem that I've never ever seen in a book with a male main character. No matter how meager their supernatural abilities, an urban fantasy hero will always square his shoulders and wade into the vampire mob when it's clear that someone has to save the day. Heroines turn to mush and have to be rescued. Limit your main character's powers--no one wants a hero or heroine who's all powerful, because that's boring--but give her inner resources too. Give her anger, determination, or a sense of justice that will overcome her fear and propel her into action. And yeah, let her win when it counts.

4. All this and brains, too.
Just as an urban fantasy heroine needs to be strong enough to take on werewolves, zombies, renegade fae, and demons, she needs to be smart too. Sure, she can make the occasional bad decision--don't we all?--but if she's, say, tracking down a murderer and repeatedly misses clues that are all but labeled CLUE in big neon letters, readers are going to get fed up fast. For an excellent example of a bright heroine, I recommend DD Barant's book Dying Bites: main character Jace is believable as an FBI profiler because she picks up on clues, jumps to logical conclusions (even if she's not always right), and doesn't spend paragraph after paragraph chewing over her thought processes.

5. Action!
Urban fantasy is built on action. If a heroine is investigating a crime, she needs to do more than poke through a few desk drawers and talk to one or two people. If she's tracking down a demon or vampire king, the trail should be fraught with ever-increasing peril. Most importantly, the heroine should be proactive. She might be knocked down a few times and have to be rescued, her angsty issues should stop her cold a few times and make it that much harder for her to go on, she might be in extra danger due to her lack of abilities compared to her foes, and everything she learns should make her realize just how much danger she's in--but she should keep going, especially when it's hard.

Grit! Determination! A driving need to make things right! This is why we're reading urban fantasy; this is what a real heroine should do.

And maybe you've noticed, these are all things heroes should do too. Mostly they do. Let the ladies step up and be as strong as the men. As long as your characters are believable and flawed, making your heroine strong is not going to get her labeled as "just a man with boobs." If you don't make her strong, she's going to get labeled "doormat," and I don't want to read about doormats. They just lie there and get walked on.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Book stats

I keep hitting "new post" and then staring at the blank page. Since I have nothing better to write about, I'll do a meme!

I've seen this one on a few book review blogs lately. Some reviewers are breaking down how many books they've read from which publishers, and which books are debuts, but I'm too lazy to figure out all that information. But here are some statistics of the 28 books I've read since the beginning of the year.

Out of 28 books, I've read 14 by female authors and 14 by male. I totally didn't intend it to split so neatly, but I'm pretty pleased it did. (I counted by book, not by author, so Kelly McCullough got counted three times in the male column, for instance, because I read three of his books this year.)

Out of those 28 books, 3 are nonfiction, 21 are fantasy, 2 mystery, 1 romance, and 1 a middle-grade novel about a sheep that doesn't actually fit in any particular category.

Authors new to me: 9 out of 28. Not bad.

Small press publishers: 5 out of 28. Also not bad. My goal is 10 out of 50 for the year.

Friday, June 11, 2010

This is where ideas come from

I was brushing my teeth tonight and thinking idly of "The Country Mouse and the City Mouse" fable and wondering if I could get a short story out of it, when I noticed a spider running around the bathroom. It was black, maybe big enough to wrap its tiny feet around the edges of a dime if it stretched, and it was acting kind of odd. I watched it for a while and it seemed to be either tracking prey or following the trail of a lady spider, or something of the sort. It would run fast for a few steps, then stop and turn slightly, then run again, then stop and turn, and so on. At one point it actually turned completely in a circle, which you have to admit is pretty un-spiderlike.

I'm a fantasy writer, so of course I started to wonder if the spider was on a tiny quest. I imagined that it was wearing a tiny amulet to ward off giants like me. If I'd seen a lady spider being menaced by an evil bug--like one of those scutigera centipede thingies--I would totally have helped out. I'm a beneficent god like that. Also I consider scutigera abominations of the invertebrate world and they probably serve the Old Ones too, so I just look for opportunities to thwart them.

So there's your answer to the age-old question, "Where do you get your ideas?" Ideas come from spiders. Also, now I'm trying to figure out if I can combine the Country Mouse, City Mouse story with a questing spider.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

You get what you give

I spent a few hours this afternoon dismantling my mom's sadly dilapidated gazebo, the one I had to assemble last spring. It didn't last long. It might have, except that we had an unusually snowy winter and one particular snowfall weighted the gazebo roof down and collapsed it. I've been trying to keep it propped up and strapped together with duct tape ever since, but another strut broke this week and Mom wanted it taken apart.

So anyway, that's what I did. And while I worked, Mom and I discussed my writing career--specifically, how to kick it in the butt. Lately I've been really discouraged about how I seem to have stalled out.

It was a good conversation. One of the things Mom pointed out is that the energy you put into a project is the energy you get back in a different form. It's time that I ramp up my energy level--not just in the creative act of writing, but in the business of publishing too. I'm also going to make an effort to write some short fiction as well as continuing to work on novels. I found a fun webpage with lots of writing prompts on it that I plan to use for that. I'm also going to revamp the main page of my website, probably this weekend, and keep it updated as close to daily as possible.

And I'll be posting here more often, I hope, and being a little more likely to read and post on my friends' blogs. Because you guys are great!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Double your fun

Well, this weekend I finally got the rest of my handwritten pages of Adventures in Zoology typed, which took forever. Turns out I'm right at the 50,000 word mark! I left my hero and heroine fleeing from city guards, and I suspect I'm going to go back to them soon. I can't just leave them in the lurch like that.

Of course, while I was typing up all that, I was neglecting The Trickster Society. I now have lots of handwritten pages for it pending typing. I just can't keep up, which is odd because I type much, much faster than I handwrite.

I just realized something. I truly am working on two books at once. It's never worked for me before, but maybe this time I can make it happen. For one thing, I'm pretty close to getting stuck on my first plot hurdle on Trickster. I'm going to need to set it aside for a few days anyway for thinking time. I might as well write something else in the meantime.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Don't throw that paper away!

When I abandoned Adventures in Zoology to start playing with The Trickster Society (and I'm starting to see just how poor my titling skills are, just with this sentence), I had written a whole bunch of the former longhand in a notebook. I don't like leaving bits and pieces of handwritten stuff untyped, but since I'm working on Trickster Society in the same notebook, I figured it was okay. Now, however, the notebook is getting pretty full. Not only that, but I just discovered a few paragraphs of Adventures in Zoology scribbled on the back of a folded over piece of typing paper which I've been using as scratch paper by my computer for weeks. It's getting full. I almost threw it away today.

So: time to type.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

WIP Wednesday: The Trickster Society and Pacing

Since I had Monday and Tuesday off work, I keep thinking today's Monday. No, it's Wednesday! I haven't done a WIP Wednesday post in forever.

The Trickster Society is coming along slowly. I wondered today why it was taking me so freaking long to get through every scene; then I realized I was stopping frequently to do research on various details connected with the setting or upcoming scenes. Usually I just make that shit up. My slow pace makes me think I'm overwriting, but I'm less than 10,000 words in.

I'm still not sure about the pacing. In the first chapter, Ivy endures a disastrous job interview; in the second chapter, her friend Robin introduces the idea of blowing off steam by running around at night pulling pranks and channeling their inner tricksters; in the third chapter, I introduce the rest of the main characters and have them all take up the trickster idea; in the fourth chapter, Ivy follows a group of shadow people (which she can see but most people can't) and discovers Something Horrible that she's going to need to ask her friends to help her with.

Now, keep in mind that my chapters are very short--around three thousand words. Still, four chapters seems a long time to make a reader wait to get to the main plot (although I've dropped some hints before). If I jump right into the action, though, not only will it make no sense, it'll also mess up the entire plot. I'm starting to see why so many books use the trite method of having a teaser first chapter with a snippet of action from later on in the book. I may be forced to do that, although I really hope not because I hate it when I read it in other people's books. When I'm reading, I don't mind if the plot doesn't hit the ground running; I don't mind finding out a little about the world and characters first--as long as the author isn't infodumping and as long as I'm getting hints of the action to come.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

June 1 peppers and angst

All the pepper plants have been sold, given away, or planted in my garden. Mostly planted in my garden. I'm getting...tired...of peppers. Here's the front garden, which is small and planted in mild peppers:

I did pick my first pepper this weekend, a sweet banana that Mom chopped up and added to the BBQ beans last night. I also picked a small but surprisingly ripe purple bell this evening that Mom plans to eat in a salad tomorrow.

Here's the big garden out back, which is planted mostly in peppers but also has ten tomato plants and half a row of very healthy lettuce. I've pulled all the radishes to make room for peppers. Most of the plants are still pretty small, which is why it looks like I'm growing nothing but weeds in some rows. The tall plants in front are sunflowers, along with zinnias, marigolds, and some wildflowers that I sowed in the clay-ey places that aren't good enough for vegetables. For some reason, in this picture you can't really see the tomato plants, even the ones in cages--they're sort of hidden behind the sunflowers or cropped off to the left--but so far it looks like we're going to get lots of tomatoes this year for a change.

Next year I plan to have more variety and fewer peppers.

As for writing (how's THAT for a segue?), I'm working slowly but steadily on The Trickster Society. The short story I had hoped to spawn from the novel hasn't really gelled. I'm just no good at writing short, or I've convinced myself I'm not. This is mostly why I have sold exactly zero stories this year--I've also written zero stories--and I suspect it's a big part of why I'm feeling so damn discouraged about my writing lately. Interest in Bell-Men seems to be running at zero too; I've still got twelve agent queries out, but the thirteen form rejects I've received so far have me pretty convinced that this is yet another project that will eventually only see print/e-ink after a slow, grim slog through agents, then large publishers, then small publishers, and ultimately I'll have spent months of my life writing the thing for a net result of a few dozen copies sold and low two figures in royalty payments. I think it's safe to say that I'm wondering a lot lately why I bother.