Category Archives: Writing

Many Projects vs One Project

For years, I’ve had multiple projects going on at once. When I’m working, I usually have a main project, a secondary project, and occasional short stories and poetry. Recently, I’ve been having trouble with my memory. On top of the “brain fog” already associated with the disease, I’ve attributed the short-term memory problems to my medication. Though the rheumatologist says no, the Johns Hopkins Arthritis Center says it hasn’t been studied enough but there is a good bit of anecdotal evidence. Still, probably going to talk it over with my regular doctor next time I see her. And I was just bumped up to the max dose too. I’m finding that, with my new limits, I’m having to restructure my process. One project at a time.

It’s frustrating to me as I’m really accustomed to being able to flip back and forth at will except in November where I’m more interested in hammering out a solid zero draft in 30 days than I am in getting anything else done. I don’t feel like I’m getting as much done and I already feel like there’s no way to be able to tell all the stories in my head in this lifetime and new stories keep showing up in there! My actual productive word count is still down from my normal count, or what was my normal. But I’m definitely getting closer. Honestly, I’m just glad I can type right again! It’s still a little bit slower but it is what it is.

Yesterday I did a read through of the zero draft of Hunter’s Hell and the first portion of the first draft where I stopped everything to get Christmas in Bear Ridge written. I like where it’s at and I don’t think it’ll take me too terribly long to finish it. Maybe I’ll even get it done by November and get myself a new zero draft of something altogether different. I’ll just have to stay working one at a time for a while. Part of me is a little sad because I have so many shiny new ideas waiting but maybe, doing this, I’ll find I get more done. Here’s hoping anyway.

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Writer Wednesday: Genre

I’m an opportunistic writer. I write whatever is in my head or heart without a thought to how it fits in the designated categories until later. I read the same way. I don’t much care what genre it is if it looks interesting. That’s not to say I’m not drawn to specific things in both writing and reading, because I am, but unless I’m writing to a specific market or publisher, I’m not going to limit myself to just this one portion of the stories in my head for consistency’s sake.

It used to be that the advice was to pick a genre and stick to it for the sake of your “writer brand”. This always made me sad though because I have so many different stories to write. In the broadest sense of the word, I suppose I do stick to a category of genre in that I do tend toward fantasy, science fiction, horror, and several of the subgenres therein, but it’s actually a goal of mine to get a book published in nearly every genre. I don’t see myself doing a non-fiction book at this juncture in my life but that could change. I won’t ever say never.

Some authors do this very well and very successfully using multiple pen names. I’m pretty sure these authors have a marketing staff to run each name’s social media too 0r, when it gets to be too much, they arrange to out their pen name so everyone knows who it is anyway (Stephen King/Richard Bachman and Nora Roberts/JD Robb come to mind here).

Marketing and Branding are hard enough without the genre stuff, it’s something I’m certainly still learning and working on. I may discover, down the road, that I’ve shot myself in the foot but I suppose we’ll see. I’ve already written enough short fiction in multiple genres under my own name to really sort of preclude using a pseudonym (unless someone smarter than me – future agent, publisher, marketing guru whatever tells me I’m wrong).

If my stories have anything in common, it’s that these are the stories I want to read. That and most of my leads are orphans because they do have that in common too. Right now, my leads are people, of various genders and races and planets of origin, who are just figuring out just how strong they can be and that relationships aren’t weaknesses.

I think I’d rather be a multigenre author and tell all my stories. What do you think?

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A Bit of Good News

This month has been quite the roller coaster. The downs were really low but the ups are pretty darn high!

Christmas In Bear Ridge will be coming this holiday season from Boroughs Publishing Group! I really like this story but it is something a bit different for me. All the myth and magic and romance and, somehow, nobody gets themselves murdered. There are a lot of parts that I really love and I can’t wait for people to get a chance to read it! You should meet Death’s favorite psychopomp too.

Seriously, this book has everything (and it takes everything in me NOT to hear that in Stefan’s voice), so, watch this space for release dates and such!

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Writer Wednesday – Value

I don’t understand why but people seem to think a writer’s time is worth nothing. No one would walk into a department store and think they can walk out with a silk shirt for nothing but they see no problem at all ripping an ebook from whatever site has put them up and never once think about the writer they’re hurting. And they are absolutely hurting the writer, and not just that writer either. There are plenty of free books out there. They might not always be consistently good quality but they are absolutely available via authors, publishers, and booksellers. Most authors have giveaways and contests if you really can’t see your way to buying a book. Libraries have untold numbers of books available to borrow any time! There are perfectly legitimate ways to read for free!

Currently, the federal minimum wage is $7.25. Using my own books and process as an example, let’s say I put 600 hours minimum writing and editing a single book (and I think that’s probably low), I don’t make minimum wage on a book until I reach 2175 books sold. Not a liveable wage, minimum wage. I’ve got two kids and college is on the horizon, looming large. Every single sale matters. Honestly, thank goodness my husband has a real job or I couldn’t afford to be doing this in the first place.

But some people don’t think a book is worth $5 (only a fraction of which actually goes to the writer). They don’t think a book is worth a dime. They don’t care about the ramifications of their actions, only that they get what they want when they want and offer it up to the next guy because why should anyone pay for the media they consume.

It breaks my heart to know that people who matter to me think so little of the work I do. It breaks my heart more that the people who matter most to me won’t even speak up when other people are talking about book piracy. The big names, maybe a missed sale or two doesn’t matter so much to them but if you’ll pirate the big names, you’ll pirate the not so big names, and you’ll definitely pirate the authors that no one has ever heard of.

My time matters. It’s worth something. Your time matters. It’s also worth something. Why should I, or any writer, be expected to put hundreds of hours into something only to give it away or at least not complain when other people steal it. It’s upsetting and, quite frankly, insulting. If you don’t want to buy a book – don’t buy it. Go to the library, wait for the promotional freebie, but quit stealing.

Authors who read this – if you’ve got experience on this, please share your story. Maybe if people come to realize that these names they see are actually people, maybe then they’ll stop. I know, probably not, but a girl can hope.

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Writer Wednesday – Goldilocks Zone

In science, it’s that perfect place in space between the star and the planet to best offer a chance at life. For my purposes, it’s that perfect balance between descriptive and bogged down. This is one of those moments where it’s good to remember that you will never make every reader happy. I used to have one writer/critique partner who was never happy with my descriptions, she always wanted more whereas I would get slogged down in her descriptions and had to fight the urge to skim them. It is very much a personal preference in both reading and writing. And it is an element that goes a long way to define a writer’s style.

Pick up a couple of your favorite books and find the first description of their main characters. Compare them. Find a book you didn’t care for and do the same. I’d lay odds that there is a lot of similarities in how the authors of your favorite books describe things and a world of difference between them and the other book. Some people really need to be told every tiny detail and some writers need to tell it that way. For me, if it isn’t integral to the plot, I don’t think I need to take the detail down to a certain level. Does the reader really need to know what pattern of china it is? It probably doesn’t matter to the story if the china is Noritake or Wedgwood and, to be perfectly honest, a lot of people don’t know the difference anyway. I am a sparse writer in the description category but when I do describe something in detail, there’s a reason for it beyond the fact that it’s pretty, either to the plot or the character.

Just because I don’t like the every stitch and brick style of description doesn’t mean that other people don’t. I tend to skim when it gets to be too much for me. My inner movie likes to be able to infer some details anyway. I am a minimalist anyway but I also tend to write stores that move at a pretty fast clip where laying down a few paragraphs of description would feel like throwing down spikes to the pacing. Sure, when I read I’ll sometimes find a writer who I want to grow up to be more like and I’ll take note of what they did that I like so much. Not everything fits me and my own style but styles mature over time and with experience. The book I wrote in high school would be a very different thing if I tried writing it again now (I have no intention of doing that, the plot is full of logical problems).

There are people who will say that you have to make sure every scene touches all the senses. I don’t disagree but I don’t think you need to set the table so obviously. Touch on all the senses, sure, but maybe you don’t need to describe each dish on the table when only two or three of them matter to the story. For me, I strive to find the middle ground between what I want to read and what that old critique partner of mine wanted me to write. I figure my Goldilocks zone is somewhere between those places. Where does yours sit? If you take the time to figure that out, you’ll be a better writer for it.

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June Wrap Up, July Goals

Niagara Falls from the American side (image: Sarah Wagner)

Another month has come to an end… This year just keeps on moving along. June was pretty good overall. It’s been just about the busiest month I’ve had in a very long time and I managed to do almost all of the things. I got the beta draft of Christmas in Bear Ridge finished and off to two quick readers while I muscle through polishing edits and description fluffing. My only real goal is to get Bear Ridge sent off to the editor. Once that’s done, I’ll happily get back to Hunter’s Hell and Gods of the Fallen and Eldercynne Knight. All of them are needing to get themselves finished.

In June, I wrote 23,037 words, completed the beta draft of Christmas in Bear Ridge, went camping in New England, I sent 0 submissions out, got two rejections in, wrote up four Face Off Recaps for the four episodes that have run so far (still my favorite game show on TV), cleaned and organized the youngest child’s room, and somehow only lost 1.5 pounds. That last one makes me so stinking mad. I’ve been doing better on not eating a bunch of stupid stuff, moving more, walked SO much of the freedom trail my whole body is still hurting, and I only lost 1.5 pounds. ugh. I do know it was probably all the sitting during all the driving (1400+ miles) and things like crabcake blts (omg, seriously. Amazing!).

July should have a bigger word count, once I get my edits finished but I don’t know how long that is going to take. I’m going to hope for as many words as June and far less missed days but since I don’t think we’re headed to another campground this month, I should be ahead of the game on that. Mostly, I’ll be happy if I can manage that, a revamp of the etsy shop, AND actually lose 5 pounds.

Mid-month, I have an appointment with the rheumatologist. It’s looking like he’s probably going to end up messing with the medications. I’m in a much better place than I was last year at this time but my bloodwork isn’t showing it so much and I’m still struggling at the end of more days than I’d like. Hopefully, shifting that around will help eliminate my crazy short-term memory problems and maybe even get one with a side effect that’s beneficial, like weight loss (fingers crossed all the ways). If nothing changes at all, I’m still in a place that’s much more liveable than it could be so I’ll make the best of it.

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Writer Wednesday – Yog’s Law, Scammers, and Tricksy Hobbitses

Simply put, Yog’s Law states that money should always flow to the writer. When you’re first starting out and don’t know the ins and outs, this is an important lesson to learn. Over the last decade, scammers have gotten a bit more clever I think but if you follow the law, you’re not going to find yourself a victim of them.

This post started in my head after seeing yet another commercial for what can only be the world’s next Publish America (beware: if you start reading the threads and blogs, you could lose days.) I get that everyone wants the validation that publication offers and it’s an amazingly heady thing to receive an acceptance letter and it can be hard to come to terms with the fact that maybe that letter isn’t entirely on the up-and-up. It’s hard to get rejected and so easy to get sucked into the idea that everyone is out to keep new ideas and new writers from succeeding but, I promise you, they’re not. New and good writers are still and always sought after, even by those companies with stables full of superstars.

If a publisher offers you a contract and then asks for upfront fees, don’t sign. Agents and publishers and all the other people involved, they want you to succeed as they make more money when you make more money. Author mills make their money from their authors who are encouraged to buy so many books to peddle at wherever they choose (usually to family and friends).

Self-publishing doesn’t change the law, but it is a bit tricky because one person is both author and publisher. As a publisher, they do have to lay out funds for editors, covers, and various expenses. As an author, they should be banking their 15% (or whatever).

A few easy marks of a less than legit publisher or agent: 1. They email you entirely unsolicited, talking about the next big thing in publishing and how they’re just waiting for your book or whatever language they’re using now. 2. If you visit the website, it’s less about attracting readers to new books and more about attracting new writers. 3. Any mention of any big movie star just waiting to play the lead in your story. There are a lot of steps between submitting a book and landing any sort of movie deal, let alone with anyone like Julia Roberts.

There are a lot of good places to get information to avoid the scammers and less than upfront or ideal practices. My first Go-To to check on publications, publishers, and agents is the Absolute Write Bewares and Background Checks portion of their forum. My second check is over at Writer Beware. Preditors and Editors is a good one but it seems to be restructuring.

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The Most Beautiful Words

Some of the most beautiful words in the world are “The End.”

I’ve written them for a number of books now, some that will never see the light of day, and others that I can’t wait to show you all. I love writing and sometimes, even with those words, a story doesn’t feel done. And that’s how series happen. I do have a few books that are stand alone one off type books but, now that Christmas in Bear Ridge is done (well, until first readers get back to me and I read through it 8 more times before sending it in before deadline), I’m also looking forward to getting back to Hunter’s Hell and writing those two beautiful words on that story. I have a lot of books in progress but, with the memory issues I’ve been having, I’m learning that it’s probably better to stick to one project at a time right now.

I have more stories than I think I’ll ever have time to tell. I’m going to say that’s a good thing though and run with it.

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Writer Wednesday – Mary Sue Characters

I mentioned last week the worst rejection I’ve ever received where a certain editor completely slammed me personally and not just my story because said editor decided it was a Mary Sue. A Mary Sue character is generally a wish-fulfillment character, doing things the author wishes they could do or being something the author wishes they could be. I don’t see anything wrong with that, personally. I certainly don’t see three paragraphs worth of lambasting me for it. I’m going to say though that that particular editor was having a really terrible day and give him the benefit of the doubt a little.

Two things are true, in my opinion. 1. There absolutely was a wish-fulfillment portion to writing that story as the character built her own wings that actually worked and tried to change the way her own people viewed those they saw as “lesser”. 2. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that.

This particular story I might want to fix a little now, being a full decade later and I know more now than I did then but I still love it. It belongs to the history of the planets involved in Guardian of the Gods and every now and again I think about pulling together all those stories into a sort of History of the Acknivarian Cycle volume and maybe I will one day.

I have never met a writer who didn’t put something of themselves in their characters or a character that didn’t reflect something of the writer. Even the villains reveal a great deal about a writer, their fears, how they see the world. It’s more fun to write about people we aspire to be doing amazing things. It’s also more fun to read about people we aspire to be as they do amazing things. I know a lot of people consider it a bad thing, a trope, and something to be avoided but really, what they want to avoid is the flawless character. Sometimes it’s hard to remember that real people are flawed, even, maybe especially, when we want to grow up to be just like them.

For me, the problem is not the Mary Sue or Larry Stu themselves – all main characters have a little bit of that wish-fulfillment desire in them. For me the problem is in the flaws, or lack thereof. If you see yourself a little too much in your characters, take a step back and look for the flaw. If there isn’t one, maybe find one. Flaws make even the greatest heroes relatable and memorable.

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Old Story, Old Thoughts

Grief has been on my mind a bit lately. I supposed that’s semi-normal for me, for the sorts of things I write, for the sort of life I’ve lived. You can’t avoid it when your grandfather is a funeral director – death is just a part of life. Sometimes, words get said and they aren’t exactly meant the way that they’re said. I think some people forget that words have power and sometimes the edges are sharper than they should be.

Instead of going on some little (or not so little) ramble about grief and the shape of it, the edges of it. I’m not going to go on at length about whether or not there is a wrong way to grieve (spoiler: there isn’t. Though I will say that avoidance is not dealing with it). Grief takes many shapes, many plateaus, and many forms. Grief isn’t always about death either. And I’ve already rambled more than I’d intended. No more rambling from me.

Instead, I’m going to put up an old story of mine that this train of thought always makes me think of. I was sitting waiting on an ultrasound for my youngest child and the story bloomed from there. It appeared in Flashquake in 2010 or 11, something like that. A long ass time ago but I still like it. Hopefully, you do too.

 

The Woman Next to Me is Dying

Sarah Wagner

Disinfectant does little to mask the scents of sickness and death, the inescapable odor that hovers beyond the reach of even the most thorough of cleanings. My nose rebels against the bleached vomit scent, threatening to make my stomach riot. I am at odds with these surroundings, carrying new life into this sick place.

The waiting room is bursting with people in line for their Rorschach images, their internal inkblots. Mine will show a beating heart, tiny fingers and toes, but the others in this room are not waiting for something so delicate or sweet. They’ve come to see the true breadth of what ails them, the lumps and bumps of scary things, lurking in the dark things.

The woman next to me is holding hands with her third round of chemo. As long as there is any offer of hope, she will be fighting. I admire her more than I have words for. What great strength must she possess in those frail, irradiated bones to face mortality with such hope.

She wears her baldness uncovered, a badge of honor, a crested buckler against death. She’s a fighter, deftly deflecting each coup de grace thrust in her direction. She won’t go quietly. Next to her, I’m a novice. I hope when the duel is mine, I am as strong as her, my will as sharp.

I am not here to parry, but to bring the next student into the world. I am waiting to hear that locomotive heart, to feel him moving beneath my skin, squirming against his prison. Anxious to begin his training.

He’s going to come out bald, like the woman next to me, and I hope he’s a fighter like her. I pray that my boy has the same strength to face life, the same steel will. I pray that the woman next to me finds her answer, finds remission in her IV bag, victory in hand.

*

I know it’s not exactly grief in the most obvious way, but for me, hope and grief spend a lot of time holding hands. The woman was more an amalgamation of people in that room and I knew none of them and I have no idea what happened to any of them. I prefer to think that each of them won the wars they were fighting.

 

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