Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Welcome, October!

I wasn't going to post at all today, because I have nothing much to say (not that that ever really stops me) and it's late and I just got home from work and I'm tired. But I've been acting awfully bitchy lately, so I thought I'd post and not complain or whine about rejections or tear some innocent writer to pieces.

Tomorrow starts October, my favorite month. It'll be my birthday soon, and then Halloween! It doesn't matter how old I get, I still look forward to my birthday (no matter how much I pretend I don't). The trees have already started turning just a little in the last week or so, and tomorrow morning it's supposed to be very cold--maybe even down in the 40s! I just hope the cold doesn't hurt the last red rose of the season that my red rose bush has been working on. The pink rose bush just keep blooming and blooming and blooming, but its roses don't smell like much. I value the rare red rose.

So tomorrow's October, and my mom is moving into a house right around the corner from me next week, and guy-who-looks-just-like-Alex is doing well, and Nano's coming up, and even if I don't get any acceptances this month, it's not like I can't write anything else. I've been working on the fourth weredeer novel and I think it has some of the best writing I've done in a while. And if no one ever wants to buy it, at least I can read it.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Halloween Hello Kitty fixes everything.

I'm feeling better about life in general now, for three reasons.

1. I checked my mail this morning and my pencil roll came! It's made of Hello Kitty Halloween cloth, which is the CUTEST thing ever, and it's really well made! I ordered it last week after Leigh Dragoon posted about hers, and the second I saw it I had to have one. Leigh Dragoon publishes Byzarium and she bought one of my stories this spring, so obviously she has good taste.

2. I got an email from the 3-day novel contest, and my entry has been received. Now I don't have to worry that it was lost in post office limbo somewhere.

3. I was supposed to give the residual ACT this evening, a real drag since it takes a good three and a half hours so I wouldn't have gotten home until about 10pm, but we only had two examinees signed up and neither of them showed. So I got to leave early.

Of course, nothing short of a big juicy acceptance would fully erase the burn from this morning's shitty rejection.

*simmers* *growls*

So I woke up this morning to a rejection, which is pretty common actually because I think all editors are vampires and only work at night. This one was for Jack of All Trades. Possibly some of you remember when I was writing it last year--more likely you don't, because I only kinda sorta remember blogging about it--but I did actually intend the book to be a series of stand-alone short stories with a linked theme. It didn't quite work out that way: none of the stories are really stand-alone, but they do feel like short stories in that each chapter concludes its own events even if they do resurface later as part of the overall plot.

In short, it's episodic, which is pretty much what I'd intended. The characters are sweet, the setting interesting, the tone light, and it's only 60k words. And I knew going in that it would be a hard sell. So I wasn't surprised to get a rejection this morning, but I was surprised at what the editor said.

She said my writing needed work. Then she explained why, and her explanation was all about the plot. With links to writing websites. Because apparently she does not know how to explain the difference between prose issues and plot construction. Oh yeah, and she attached a file to "help me" with my writing, which mostly covers basic grammar. I think that's what infuriates me the most.

So, editor, come back when you work for a real publisher instead of a rinky-dink epublisher who doesn't even pay to have your authors' books copyrighted. I tell you, that's the last time I send a manuscript to a small publisher. As I've said before, if small publishers were any good, they'd be large publishers.

Oh yeah, I know it's unprofessional to rant about rejections. I don't care. I have opinions and that's what this blog is for, after all.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

The rest is still unwritten

Catherine J. Gardner posted a fun meme: Find a song that sums up what you think it means to be a writer and post the lyrics on your blog and why you've chosen it. It doesn't have to be your favourite song, it just has to express how you feel about writing and/or being a writer. It can be literal, metaphorical, about a particular form or aspect of writing - whatever you want. Then tag 5 others to do the same (reprint these instructions).

Mine's Natasha Bedingford's "Unwritten."

I am unwritten, can't read my mind, I'm undefined
I'm just beginning, the pen's in my hand, ending unplanned

Staring at the blank page before you
Open up the dirty window
Let the sun illuminate the words that you could not find
Reaching for something in the distance
So close you can almost taste it
Release your inhibitions

Feel the rain on your skin
No one else can feel it for you
Only you can let it in
No one else, no one else
Can speak the words on your lips
Drench yourself in words unspoken
Live your life with arms wide open
Today is where your book begins
The rest is still unwritten

Well, it's pretty obvious, isn't it? I happen to really like this song, too, and have it on CD. It's a cheerful, unbeat song that makes me feel excited about the possibilities in the writing life instead of just worried that I actually kind of suck at it.

Now that Nano's only a few short weeks away, I need to find that CD.

Oh, and I hate tagging people, so take this and run with it if you find it fun.

Saturday, September 27, 2008


the margin wight asked (in the comments of another post) for recommendations of dragon books, particularly any dating from 1905 or before. I answered him in my usual slapdash fashion, but I keep thinking of more and more dragon stories. They're all post-1905, though, so I'll ask you, Internets People, if you can think of any older dragon stories/books with dragons. The only one I can think of is E. Nesbit, who wrote a story called "The Last of the Dragons." By a huge, MASSIVE coincidence, that's the story that finishes up Ricasso Press's Black Dragon, White Dragon anthology, in which I have a story. ("Sea and Sky"--you can find the table of contents listed on this page) And in an even more astonishing coincidence, Black Dragon, White Dragon is finally back from the printers and should be available very soon!

While I do love E. Nesbit's books, some of them are hard to find. Apparently she wrote one called The Seven Dragons, published in 1899, which seems to be a collection of stories about dragons. And you can download it from Project Gutenberg here! I did!

And since I love lists, and love dragons, I'll start a list of books about dragons. This is by no means a comprehensive list, partly because I had to sell or give away so many of my books when I moved the last three times, partly because I'm not actually all that organized. Please add to the list in the comments! (For simplicity's sake, I've listed only the first book of a given series, or in the case of worlds with multiple storylines--like Anne McCaffrey's Pern books--those books I like best or think are most important.)

Books about Dragons

Bear, Elizabeth, Blood and Iron, 2006 (the dragon may also appear in other of her Promethean books; I haven't read them yet)

Jones, Diana Wynne, Dark Lord of Derkholm (1998); dragons also appear in a small way in its sequel, Year of the Griffin

MacAvoy, R.A., Tea with the Black Dragon (1983) and its sequel, Twisting the Rope

McCaffrey, Anne, SF series "Dragonriders of Pern," begun 1968, Dragonsong, Dragonsinger, Dragondrums

Nesbit, Edith, The Seven Dragons (1899)

Novik, Naomi, series starting with His Majesty's Dragon (British title Temeraire), 2006

Pratchett, Terry, several books in the Discworld series, esp. The Colour of Magic (1983) and Guards! Guards! (1989)

Rowling, J.K., book 4 of the Harry Potter series, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2000)

Tolkien, J.R.R., The Hobbit (1936)

Wrede, Patricia, YA series starting with Dealing with Dragons (1990)

Yep, Lawrence, series based on Chinese folklore, starting with Dragon of the Lost Sea, 1982

Yolen, Jane, SF series "The Pit Dragons," begun 1982, Dragon's Blood

Friday, September 26, 2008

NaNoWriMo signup now! ...and 300 days

I did have a peppy excited post about signing up for NaNoWriMo early--this year they've opened the floodgates in September instead of waiting for October 1, so if you want to join in, hop on over now to sign up! And buddy me so we can race!

But Blogger ate my peppy post, dammit. So I'm a little annoyed and can't quite manage the same level of peppiness.

According to Duotrope, a small publisher has had one of my favorite manuscripts for 300 days now. I'd get all annoyed about how long they're keeping it--but at this point, I figure they're seriously considering it since they've kept it so long. Over three months ago I sent a status query email and got back a note that the manuscript was with an editor for a full read. Now I'm starting to get antsy again, because what if I missed the rejection email in the last three months? I used my old email address to submit, the email that gets a billion spams a day. I do a search of the trash (for "submission") before I dump it, but I might easily miss an important email even so.

I really hope they buy this book. I keep writing sequels for the damn thing.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Kim and Aggie and Jackie, my mom

Mom is obsessed with the show "How Clean Is Your House?", which she gets on the BBC America channel. I go over sometimes to watch it with her. It's a great show, funny and kind of sweet, where two women go to people's disgusting, filthy, horrible houses and help them clean, in hopes of them keeping the house clean afterwards. If it was an American show, the cleaning crew would paint and put down new carpet and stuff too, makeover style. Kim and Aggie, the hosts of the show, just clean, which is refreshing.

Mom watches it religiously now, two episodes at noon and two at 5pm. She's picked up a remarkably good Scottish accent and has started referring to her stove as "the cooker." And she's been cleaning like crazy. She blogged about it this morning here.

Anyway, today she came over to my house and helped me clean it. It wasn't all that bad, since we just did a deep cleaning last month, but Mom's now into the nitty gritty. I came out from scrubbing the bathroom to find her rinsing the trash can out with sudsy water and lavender oil. She poured baking soda and boiling water down the sink, scoured the bottom of my good copper pot with lemon and salt (actually lime juice and salt, since I didn't have any lemon--my good copper pot was cleaned with a margarita), and cleaned out the fridge. Me, I put up new fly stick strips to kill more of those damn gnats.

Anyway, if I can keep it this clean, I'm all set for November now, when NaNoWriMo gets underway. This year I think I'm planning to go to the local meetings, since I need to get out more and I have to work on the days my spinning guild meets. Besides, it'll be fun to hang out face to face with fellow writers. And it'll be nice to write in a perfectly clean house.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

He's so adorable!

ZOMG guy-who-looks-just-like-Alex came into the testing center while I was working today and I got to talk to him!

For the uninitiated, Alex is a very minor character in a book I revised this spring. The guy-who-looks-just-like-Alex is a student at the college where I work as a test proctor, and as you may have guessed, he looks just like the minor character Alex--to a degree that it is actually eerie. In addition, I noticed that he seems very happy to be in school, so I've sort of been keeping an eye out for him (in a non-creepy way, I promise) and sending good thoughts his way.

I'm happy to report that he is a very nice guy, just like his namesake. He didn't argue about the testing center policies like so many people do, and cheerfully solved the dilemma of all his stuff not fitting in the lockers we provide for students' stuff, without complaining at all. I did, of course, offer to show him how the lockers work--which I often do for students if we're not busy, because those lockers really are kind of weird--and held his calculator while he put his things away. He kept up a pleasant running commentary and apologized for taking up my time. I so badly wanted to say, "Oh, no problem--I can't wait to get home and blog about you under the 'stalker' label!"

Yeah. I think I just crossed the line into creepy.

I know his name now, or at least his first name (because I never pay attention to last names and anyway his is unusual). I wish I could report that it's Alex, but no luck. I won't tell you his name, of course, but I know I'll end up using it as a character name eventually. I won't be able to help myself.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Obscure music trivia!

Because I have nothing else to write about today, here's a factoid about me. You know, just in case you're on a trivia game show one day and the subject is me, Famous Person.

*cue drumroll* I have listened to the Concrete Blonde album Bloodletting more times than anyone in the whole world, ever in history, possibly forever.

And I know that because for several years back in my 20s, almost every night when I went to bed I'd put the CD on and turn the sound way down, so that it was just loud enough to listen to without straining but not so loud it kept me awake. I'd listen to the album as I fell asleep. Sometimes I'd hear the whole thing, sometimes just a few songs.

It wasn't a compulsion or anything, or even a way to keep insomnia at bay. (Despite my frequent complaints, I'm very seldom prey to insomnia; when I am, it's almost always due to caffeine.) I just really liked the album. I still do. And I still have that same beat-up, scratched-up Bloodletting CD, too, but if I try and listen to it during the day it makes me feel sleepy....

Monday, September 22, 2008

Names I can't use

At lunch I was reading the fantastic Baby Name Wizard blog and came across the name Shiloh. As a result, I've had the Neil Diamond song of the same title stuck in my head all afternoon now.

Same with two stories I'm working on, one titled "Long Way Home" and the other "Underground." Both inflict me with Norah Jones earworms for long after I've stopped work on the story. Fortunately, I really like Norah Jones--but what if I didn't?

So now I realize that in addition to all the other naming restrictions I hang upon myself, like the one where I won't use the same name for two characters even if they're in completely different stories, I have to be more careful about names (or titles) that might conjure up songs. There are a lot of songs out there and only so many names I like.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Calmer now.

Okay, after a generous dollop of Caroline Stevermer's excellent A College of Magics, I allow that maybe I was just a teeny bit harsh to poor Kristen Britain earlier. She is only the product of decades of epic fantasy crap being written, published, and read. I suppose she fills some sort of niche, and I'm sure her more recent books are better.

On the other hand, her editor should never, ever have let this phrase stand: "It blinked, extinguishing its moon eyes, and twisted its head away, as owls do." Not a bad turn of phrase--except that she is talking about an owl. It is actually an owl. So she has told us that an owl is doing what owls do. And that's only on page three.

But let me quit belaboring the book as if I cared that much. I'm enjoying A College of Magics hugely, and after that I may just go reread a few favorites. I seem to be in a reading mood right now, not a writing mood, and I'm just going to go with it. NaNoWriMo's coming up, I'm finding steamships unexpectedly tedious, and I'm worried that my 3-day novel entry never arrived (no confirmation email). And I have three novels now under consideration at various small presses and one under consideration by a prestigious agent. I'll just read other people's books for a while and try and chill.

Dear Authors:

Allow me to post now purely as a reader, begging the authors of fantasy novels to read my heartfelt pleas.

1. Do not start your book off with a character who is not the main character. If you have to start with the bad guy doing something bad because it's more interesting, you're writing the wrong book. Or you shouldn't be writing at all.

2. Do not give your main character a name that is difficult to pronounce or remember, or one that incites laughter in the reader. Adding an apostrophe to a name does not enhance it or make it cool. It just makes you, the author, look fucking stupid.

3. When you do finally get around to introducing your main character, make sure you have provided her with a personality beyond whining. Especially when your book is 471 pages long. That's a long time to spend with a character who isn't interesting.

4. Your book is probably 471 pages long because you spend far too many words describing the landscape and having your whiny main character think things over. This means you've slowed the pace of your novel one million percent, and I'm not a patient reader. That is why, dear author, I didn't get past page 13 of your masterpiece.

5. Please watch your style. Stilted formality does not sit well with modern slang. Particularly when we're talking about your prose as well as your dialogue, for gawd's sake.

Oh, I could go on and on, but it won't help. The kind of writer who needs this advice isn't the kind of writer willing (or probably able) to change. I do think Diana Wynne Jones's The Tough Guide to Fantasyland should be REQUIRED READING for anyone who wants to write fantasy. And not as a how-to guide, either.

And yes, a particular book set me off. I paid cash money for Kristen Britain's godawful Green Rider despite misgivings at the store, mostly because I kind of liked the cover and the premise seemed interesting. How did this shit get published? I really have no idea. It's got some of the worst writing I've seen in years; it makes White Rose seem like a masterpiece. Oh, and the main character's name is Karigan G'ladheon. What the fuck is that apostrophe doing there? And why the fuck should I care about this character, who has less personality than one of those cigar store Indian carvings? *tears hair out and screams*

Kristen Britain is welcome to come post here if she wants to, because I'd like to explain to her that she owes me $7.99 plus tax, which is what I spent on her crappy book.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Why am I so wordy lately?

When I write longhand, I can pretty much keep going as long as I'm not interrupted, because my brain goes just a little bit faster than I can physically write the words down. Apparently that makes me wordy.

I wrote a story out longhand two weeks ago, and I wondered why it was taking me so freaking long to type it up--I would type a bit of it and lose interest, and come back and type some more the next day, and so on. Finally I typed the last of it tonight. Even after cutting one minor character and a few lines here and there, and several paragraphs near the end, it came to 5,200 words. 5,200 words in a story where nothing much happens!

I swear, I never used to have this problem. I used to underwrite, and later I'd have to go in and add stuff, mostly description. Now I'm working hard at putting the description in the first draft, which is good for me as a writer but not so good for my wordcount.

I think there's no market for this story, either. It's sort of YA, sort of funny, has too blatant of a moral, and the core idea has probably been done to death. And, of course, it's way too long.

Hope you pirate-talked yesterday

Yesterday was (yawn) talk like a pirate day, which was a lot funnier when every single person on the planet didn't mention it in their blog.

I'm grouchy because I have to go to work.

If you want to recapture the magic, I recommend "The Last Saskatchewan Pirate," a delightful song by Captain Tractor. If you want to hear the whole thing with graphics from some horrible-looking video game, go here. Although I do warn you that you'll forever remember the blue guy clicking his heels and dancing when you play the song.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Browsing Fail at Amazon

I wasted over an hour last night and another hour tonight trying to find another MMPB to add to my Amazon cart for the 4-for-3 paperback sale. I ended up with five books in the end, four massmarket paperbacks and one trade paperback that I absolutely had to have, and hopefully I'll get my order by next week, but I've got some suggestions for Amazon's browsing function. Listen up, raging-corporate-behemoth!

1. Let me exclude factors from a search, like "Arthurian" and "Celtic," which are two types of fantasy books that make my brain shut down in defense of boredom at the mere mention.

2. List books that are based on movies, TV shows, comics, or games of any kind in a completely separate category*, with no overlap into other fiction categories. That way I won't have to skim over nine-tenths of the F&SF category trying to find something I want to read.

3. Let me exclude all books with covers that feature a photograph instead of art. Fantasy novels should have artwork on the cover, dammit.

That's a start. Incidentally, every single one of the books I ordered tonight were ones I saw reviewed online somewhere, which is a tactic I turned to when I couldn't wade through all the Dragonlance novels that kept popping up on my Amazon searches without my brain exploding. My ultimate choices: The Good Fairies of New York by Martin Millar, Tinker by Wen Spencer, Dragon Champion by E.E. Knight (the trade paperback my brain insisted I buy), Magic Lost, Trouble Found by Lisa Shearin, and a Dorothy Sayers mystery I can't seem to find in any of the local used book stores I frequent (Thrones, Dominations, started by Sayers before her death and finished recently by some other author I can't remember; it's supposed to be good). I'll let you know how they turn out.

*I nominate "derivative," but you could also use "retread" or just "boring."

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Her blog is a lot better than mine.

I've spent almost all afternoon and a good chunk of the evening so far reading my mom's blog posts from 2006. I'm making a list of the posts that I think would be good to include in her next Lulu compilation, and so far it's almost all of them. For an excellent example (which made me giggle hysterically), I recommend August 22's post, "You got to wait for me."

Mom's first blog compilation is called Miserable on Purpose, and it's available through Lulu or Amazon. I keep meaning to go in and fix it so people can download the PDF instead of having to buy the POD hard copy. It's worth the money, though. I may be a little biased, but I know good writing when I see it, and it's nice to have all the best blogs in one place. They make funny, sweet, interesting reading!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Hearting Blogs

I've been tapped twice for the I Love Your Blog meme. Thanks, Catherine J. Gardner and Jeremy Kelly! Catherine J. Gardner writes dark fantasy and horror (for kids too!) and I think she's sold more stories in the last two months than I've written in my entire life. Jeremy Kelly is a writer too--horror, I think (judging from his recent sale to Northern Haunts), but I'm sure he writes in other genres. Also, he has a picture of a guy riding a zebra on his blog, which is just cool.

I'm going to take a quick page from Victoria Strauss from Writer Beware, who was also tapped for the meme but declined to list favorites. In her case, she was probably just being politic. I just don't know all that many people who would be interested in me passing on an I Love Your Blog award. :) All you have to do, though, is check out the link list over there. ---> The blogs I list are all ones I like well enough to check them every day. You'd probably like them too!

In a complete change of subject, I saw guy-who-looks-just-like-Alex today! I hadn't seen him since about July and I was so worried he'd dropped out or something. Today I even talked to him. I said, "Thanks," when he held the door so it wouldn't swing in my face as I entered the library building behind him. Then he went off to the library and I went off to my job, me feeling much better about the world in general. So remember, guys, if you ever feel down--you never know how many strangers are quietly pulling for you.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Congratulations, Jordan!

I just heard that Jordan Lapp, coeditor of Every Day Fiction, has made the finalists of the Writers of the Future contest! Here's the official list of semifinalists and finalists for the 3rd quarter 2008 contest. He's reached the semifinals at least twice now, so making finalist isn't all that big a surprise. Congrats to Jordan, and good luck! Here's hoping for first place for you!

Monday, September 15, 2008

Making lists = organization

I keep records of all my submissions and stories in a binder next to my computer (I also use Duotrope, but I don't feel comfortable unless I also keep paper records; I live in fear of accidentally resubbing a rejected story to the same market). Every few months, I go through the binder and make a list that I print out and stick in the front. The list has three sections, "Active Stories," "Sold Stories," and "Retired." Not only do I list the stories by title, I also count up how many rejections each story has received.

This is supposed to make me feel better about things. Generally, it does. For instance, the "Sold Stories" category is nice and long now, although when I adjust for this year's sales only (I've bolded those), it's a much more modest list--six sales and one reprint sale, and two of those are flash stories. Unfortunately, the "Retired" list is also growing. But I'm writing better stories and dropping the older ones as unworthy.

It's the "Active Stories" list that's worrying me at the moment. It's only got seven stories on it, three of them flash, one of them marked down as "probably need to retire this one" and one pending a rewrite to be fully active. That leaves me with two real stories out there. And one of those is in limbo since it's technically not out anywhere--that's the one where the editor wrote me last week telling me it'd be October before I heard back on the story, but the editor seems to have his wires crossed because he already rejected that story in April.

Maybe he should keep a binder like mine. Maybe I should, you know, actually farking write some new stories.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Hiccups of Impatience

In the last month, I sold two stories, received six rejections, had two requests for fulls for novels (one agent, one small press), and got a strange note from an editor who rejected me this spring telling me it would probably be another month before he got back to me on the story and is that okay? Uh, yeah, sure.

None of this makes me feel any less impatient. I know it's unrealistic, I know editors are busy people and they receive way too many submissions. Only three of my Duotrope submissions are red, and two of those are stories I suspect I'll never hear back on. The other one's a novel that's been out 287 days, and I did get an update in June from an editor saying it's in for a full read. So I should be happy, right?

Right. I'll be happy when I no longer have hiccups and get acceptances for all the stories I've got out, immediately. Although right now, I'd settle for just the hiccup cure. (At least this is an excuse to go nom a heaping spoonful of sugar. You know that really works, right? But you have to eat the sugar dry. No chewing or sloshing it around in your mouth first. Just force it down, jimmy.)

Friday, September 12, 2008

Good night, and good luck

If you live in the projected path of Hurricane Ike, good luck tonight. I hope you were able to get to higher ground; I hope you come through the night safely. This looks like a nasty one, but let's hope it isn't as bad as they're saying.

We can has reasonableness?

Okay, people, quit freaking out over the gas situation! Jeez.

(Says the person who paid $4.19 a gallon and was glad to get it. Full service pump, too, nyah nyah nyah.)

I've got a Netflix--not sure what came up on my queue, but it's probably something animated--and popcorn, and I've already ironed my work clothes for tomorrow. I'm set for the evening.

Thursday, September 11, 2008


I'm gearing up for this year's NaNoWriMo. I have my idea and the (first) name of my main character (Quinton, mostly because I like writing Q's). I need to think up a title and I need to decide what I want to accomplish in the story. I also need to do some research.

I went to the library today and checked out two books on steamships. Steamships! Yes, my book is going to take place largely on a steamship, partly magically powered (it's a fantasy, after all), and I need to know at least a little bit about ships in general and steamships in particular.

Since I use NaNo to try new things out (like my 2005 book, which was the first time I ever used an outline; or my 2006 book, which I partly dictated), this year I'll try actually really researching a subject instead of relying on my vague but broad knowledge of any given subject (comes from reading widely and not remembering details well) and making up the rest. I'll even take notes! About steamships!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Plot as Character

A writer should know her weaknesses as well as her strengths. My weaknesses are plot and description; my strength is characterization. I've been making a real effort to improve my descriptions over the past year, but plot defeats me.

Why do some stories' plots seem so organic and work so well, while others fall so flat? And why is it only my short stories that have plot problems, never novels?

It was that realization this week, that my novels' plots always work no matter how little planning I put into them*, that led me to a thunderous realization. Probably this is not new to anyone else, but I'm stunned. It explains not only my plot problems but my dislike of writing short stories.

Plot is character. It isn't something separate from the other story elements, like the road under a traveler's feet. The plot is the feet.

The main character's desires, fears, pressures, dreams, and beliefs shape the plot. If the story's events don't follow, logically and directly, from the main character, the plot doesn't work. And it often makes the character fail too.

Take, for instance, The Wizard of Oz. Dorothy's caught up in an event out of her control--the tornado--but it's a direct result of her being outside to rescue Toto. Her concern for Toto, and then for her aunt and uncle, shape both her character and the plot. The plot is advanced by her desire to return home, a desire so strong that she braves all the scary things that happen as a result. Because she's warm-hearted, she rescues and befriends several other characters and they join her, and at that point the plot is further influenced by those characters' needs and wants, as well as by Dorothy's added concerns for her new friends. And so on.

It's organic. It's a whole. Change the character of Dorothy and you have to change the plot.

Say Dorothy discovered she loved Munchkinland so much she wanted to settle down in a little blue house and never leave. An author who has fallen in love with the world he's built can easily have his feelings transfer to a character without realizing it. But say the author still wanted Dorothy to travel to the Emerald City and meet Oz, destroy the witch, etc.--all because he'd worked the plot out that way and it has to happen. He can put Dorothy through her paces and force her to leave her new home, but the events will feel contrived to the reader and Dorothy's motivation to travel and return to Kansas will seem false (or lacking altogether).

I seem to understand the nature of plot as character when it comes to novels, and sometimes I get it right in stories too. More often, though, the characters in my short stories are passive people to whom plots occur. That's why the "retired" folder on my computer is so full. Until this week, I thought I just needed to figure out what I'd done wrong with each plot and fix it, and that would fix the stories. Now I know I need to fix the characters.

I don't plan to work on those stories anymore, though. They're dead things, stillborn. But I can see myself writing more stories--and better ones--from now on. I no longer have to wrestle with the plot problem. Instead, I get to focus entirely on character, which is what I love about writing novels and what I used to miss about writing short stories.

After all, it's my strength.

*Although I seem to understand "plot as character" intrinsically in my novels now, it wasn't always the case. My early attempts at novels have the same problems that many of my stories have now.

Monday, September 8, 2008

White Rose forever and ever and ever

With nothing much to do this past week or so at work (we're still only two weeks into the fall semester, with no placement tests scheduled) and no big project to work on, in desperation I've been writing on White Rose to keep myself occupied. I haven't typed up any of what I've written so far, but it's most of a 70-page spiral notebook, front and back pages, college ruled. I figure I've written a good 7,500 words, but I may be overestimating.

The book is probably about 60,000 words long by now, or will be when I type all that mess up, and I only just got Rose to the big city. She and her companions still have to cross the rest of the sea of grass, visit a remote city in the mountains that may have been destroyed by something or another, find a reclusive wizard to help them, and travel to their ultimate destination somewhere in the heart of the mountains, there to have the gigantic climax in which Rose and her friends Save the World, or at least do enough saving for this book; naturally, this kind of book requires a sequel. All that while the forces of evil are hot on their heels. Remember, White Rose is not meant to be an innovative book. It's not even meant to be a particularly good book, which is good, because it's not.

I have been wondering why I'm laboring over this mess when it's obvious I'm writing an instant trunk novel. That is, when I finish White Rose, odds are good I'll set it aside and never let anyone read it. It's not even good writing practice, since I'm not even working very hard to make the prose decent. Admittedly, it's not horrible--in fact it's actually pretty readable--but it's so very, very trite.

Except for the were-zebras, of course. They're pretty cool. And unexpected, even to me.

Anonymous, where did you go?

I'm at lunch and my eee's battery is about to go (forgot to charge it up this weekend, dammit), but I wanted to post this. I found the link at BoingBoing. The Church of Scientology, via some law group they probably own/run, issued over 4,000 DMCA takedown notices (many of them based on spurious information) to YouTube this weekend to get all the Anonymous and Anonymous-inspired stuff disappeared. Read more about it here.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Small exchanges, big ideas

Two little kids, a boy and a girl, just knocked on my door, and the boy asked me if they could walk my dog. The little girl already had a dog with her, one of those tiny breeds with bulgy eyes; it weighed maybe eight pounds at the most (the dog, I mean, not the bulgy eyes). My dog is a Newfoundland who in his prime weighed about 110, although he's nearly twelve years old now and down to an old-man weight of probably 85, but like many mellow big dogs he's easily intimidated by tiny dogs, who turn ferocious when they see him lumber their way.

So I had to explain that my dog is really old and stays in the yard when he goes out, and the boy said that he and the girl were planning a dog show, and I wished them luck. They're still wandering around with the tiny dog. I love living here.

For some reason, that exchange suddenly reminded me of the story idea I'd been turning over in my head last night. I fell asleep thinking about it and forgot all about it by morning, but I'm glad to have it back. It's a fun idea. It has possibilities for an unusual short story. It has nothing at all to do with dogs or kids or anything like that, but--pop, there it was, back in my brain.

So thanks, little kids. I wish I had a younger dog to loan you for your dog show.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

post-book blahs

It's nice to be back on my regular schedule, with Thursdays off. I didn't do much today--certainly no writing--but I did get my lawn mowed (and part of my mom's lawn too). That counts for something. It was hot, though, and I think I drank about a quart of lemonade afterwards, so that I all but sloshed with every step.

As usual after I finish a big project, I can't seem to settle to anything else right away. I didn't think I'd have this problem after the contest, since I only wrote for two days (and edited for one), but I was pretty much immersed in the world and its characters for a full month. Now I may just start planning for my Nano novel early, since I can't even find the energy for even a short story.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

What I learned in the contest.

I forgot that yesterday was the one-year anniversary of this blog. Whee!

I mailed my 3-day novel contest entry today. So that's done and I just have to wait until January to hear the results. It's funny, but all that buildup of preparing for the contest all through August, and worrying about whether I could actually finish the book in three days, etc.--and the contest turned out to be a dawdle. I finished the writing in two days without losing sleep or skipping anything important (like work on Saturday). On the third day I edited.

So what did I learn? I learned that I am actually a pretty fast writer--which I knew, but it's nice to have it proven. I'm also a very careful writer, which surprised me. I built my outline like a brick wall and wrote the story with surprisingly few deviations from the outline (and the changes I did make were mostly to improve the pacing and fix a motivation problem). Take a single character out and the whole story collapses. And I only needed to make one light editing pass, and after that I just went in and shoved in more description, which is my worst weakness. I also learned--from the super careful outlining and then the super quick writing--that when you come right down to it, writing is 99% thinking and 1% word choice.

I wrote a 1,100-word story at work this morning with a working title of "Cold Girl." It's really maudlin and overwritten. This afternoon and evening at work, because today was my long day and we were really DEAD, I wrote a scene from White Rose in an attempt to keep from dying of boredom. It worked, but boy is that scene terrible.

Monday, September 1, 2008

book 4 of this binge

Sad, I know, that my August book binge only consisted of four books. I just didn't have enough time to read, what with preparing for the contest. There are still a lot of books in the "to be read" pile. I'll get to them eventually.

Day Shift Werewolf by Jan Underwood was a 3-day novel contest winner a few years ago, and I finally read it last night after I finished my own entry. I bought it for the title, but I'm very glad I did. It's funny, sweet, and at times poignant. It's a good read.

It consists of eight lightly-connected stories, each about a different misfit monster. The day shift werewolf is one. So is the curious zombie, the witch with too many cats, the "demon with a hidden human" (as it says on the back cover). I can't even give the subjects of some of the stories because finding out who's narrating--they're all in first person--is part of the fun. Underwood does a good job differentiating the voices for each narrator.

Best of all, it's a novella, just 80 pages long and a quick read. But there's plenty to it, and I keep thinking about the different characters. I think my favorite is the last story, which finishes the book so perfectly, but--well, I must say the witch with 17 cats was pretty darn funny.