Tag Archives: writing

Monsters, Myths, and Magic

I’m going to apologize in advance as this is going to be a little rambling – I had this conversation with myself when I woke up at 3 and struggled to get back to sleep and now, I feel the need to share some of that brain meandering.

I have been a little obsessed with mythology since I was a very tiny girl who discovered books about ancient Egypt. I blame the Carnegie Museum of Natural History for their amazing Egyptian section and my mother for letting me read what I wanted to read regardless of my age. It was only natural to venture into Greek and Roman myth after that and, where I was living at the time, there was a story hour at the local Native American museum and it was an inexpensive thing to do with a kid on weekends and my dad was the KING of cheap daddy/daughter days so we went to those regularly, so I was exposed to a broad variety of myths and legends.

The very first decent story I wrote was based on Greek mythology. In 4th grade, a group of us were participating in Odyssey of the Mind doing a play. I fairly certain the topic we were assigned was Greek mythology and this came on the heels of doing a unit on Mesopotamia and Sumeria in school and I wrote most of the play – all about Medusa. We did pretty well, coming in 3rd in the state and it was great fun. That year really cemented both my love for storytelling and for mythology. It carries on into my books now for sure.

One of the things I’m discovering is that I really have a deeper interest in the mythology of the afterlife. In Hunter’s Crossing and its sequels, the netherworld is a key part of the plots. For that one, there are bits and pieces and nods to all sorts of mythologies from around the world a bit like no one got it all but everyone got a sliver of the good information. Of course, there are a host of other myths represented in the monsters in that book. Demonborn and Long is the Way are literally about the politics of Hell creeping out onto Earth but they’re both very different. One is definitely based more on Christianity and the other more on global myth bases.

Hell is one of those topics that has always danced around the edge of my consciousness. The art I love, the stories I love, even my favorite comic books delve into the topic a bit. Old art is bound to though, really, given how prevalent religion is in that arena but Hieronymous Bosch is my favorite. He’s crazy but I love it. I always find something new to see there and, at the time, it took a great deal of bravery to depict the clergy in such a manner.

Christmas in Bear Ridge (coming this winter!!) is a different beast as it’s a lot sweeter than my usual fare but there are touches of mythology from all the major religions if you look for them (maybe I’ll make a scavenger hunt to go with the book, complete with prizes!).

Some stories – like Eldercynne Rising, Gods of the Fallen, and Guardian of the Gods, I’ve made up my own mythos. I love the mythological pantheon of the Acknivarian Cycle stories – Guardian of the Gods and the short stories published and unpublished and two other novels that got trunked for now. Writing in that universe always feels like coming home. It was my first real universe that was entirely mine. I wrote the first draft of one of those trunked books the year my oldest son was born. Only three people in the world have ever read it. It isn’t bad really but I’ve grown up a lot since then and I’m not ruling out rewriting it someday as it is Arilan’s origin story and I love her.

Part of marketing is branding so I’ve been trying to figure out what ties my stories together and, far too early this morning, I think I’ve answered my own question – it’s the myths. Mythology and magic and monsters with a little bit of sweetness and romance thrown in for good measure.

 

 

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Writer Wednesday – Finding Your Tribe

Even the most introverted people need support people. I am terrible at peopling and my support system is incredibly tiny. I’ve been fortunate enough to find good people online who support the crazy that is writing. Getting the occasional atta girl shouldn’t mean as much as it does, but it does. I wrote a few months ago about finding a local writer’s group. I’m still going. I’m still enjoying it. I have a lot of information to share (I ought to, as long as I’ve been doing this!). But, as our fearless leader was saying last night, it really doubles as a support group. I got to thinking about it later and it’s absolutely true.

Writing is a solitary endeavor (unless you are one of the people that write in pairs) but it’s also a draining one and it’s very easy to get sucked in and pay no attention to the world around you. As much as I find people to be exhausting, I find writers to be invigorating. I always come home from group ready to write more on whatever it is I’m writing or create something altogether new. I think it’s similar to my friends that return from writer’s conventions all rip-roaring ready to go only on a smaller, more frequent scale.

It isn’t true of every writer or every group. I think there’s a lot to be said for the energy of a group – too much negativity in one place is nearly always too much for me. I am, at heart, an optimist (even when I don’t sound like it). For me to properly recharge, the constant barrage of negativity I get from nearly everywhere anymore needs to be quiet for a while.

It’s hard to find the people that support and prop you up especially in the day and age of the internet when you never really know whose fingers are behind those words and if they’re being genuine or manipulative. Face to face, it’s a little easier but it also requires being face to face which is something I tend to avoid whenever possible. My tribe, when I’ve had one, has always been tiny and usually made up of people who were related to me or knew me once upon a time in my teenage years with a few awesome writers thrown in. It’s kind of nice to have a truly varied group of people who understand at least on some level the passion and the all-consuming nature of writing and storytelling. Really, I get sucked into my own stories and forget to do other things, like laundry, until someone is out of pants. They don’t necessarily enjoy my genre and there’s a lot more children’s writers than I would expect for a small group, but that doesn’t matter. What matters is sharing space with people who understand the need to create and who want to know the information I have to share and who have other information to share. It fosters a sense of well-being and that sense, at least for me, often leads to new wells of creativity and desire to make something or write something.

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Writing Wednesday: Where Do Stories Come From

Alternatively: the one question I probably get asked the most.

I honestly don’t know how to explain why I see movies in my head when I listen to music or why three words can spawn a full novel that just needs to be typed out. I do understand how my brain makes connections between seemingly unrelated things to get other outlandish things so that’s something at least. Stories are everywhere. Like my second favorite Doctor once said: Stories are where memories go when they’re forgotten.

I think, in part, I get this question because some people don’t understand how the stories I write can be so violent, so full of myths and monsters, when that’s not how they imagine I am. Silly people. First, this is my outlet for that urge and second, I’m not writing about me. I have no problem with a little Mary Sue now and again but as much as I admire some of my characters, they aren’t me, they don’t respond how I would respond or say what I would say. Which is good because at least one of my main characters is very much all about the violence. I have family who would really rather if I’m going to do something so ridiculous as write books, believes I should at least do them the courtesy of writing children’s books. Nevermind that I have zero desire to do so and nevermind that the children’s book market is just as overflowing as the rest of them.

The fact of the matter is, I don’t know how stories are going to play out when I start them. I never managed to do outlines very well, I write better when I have no idea where it’s going. Sometimes I just have an idea of what kind of story I want to tell or I have a character I want to do something with and I open up my document and put words down until I have something resembling a story. Sometimes I’ll write myself in a corner or include things that will get cut out later. Most times I’ll do both of those things.

Every writer has a different method, a different starting point but to answer the question, I have no idea where my stories come from. Perhaps I’ve lived a thousand lives that are looking to be remembered. I have no shortage of ideas though so I never really thought to pick it apart too much. Do your ideas come from somewhere or do they just sort of, show up?

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Writing Wednesday: The Importance of Goals

Today is the first of August already! Since that’s the case, I’m going to make my Writing Wednesday Post and my July Wrap Up and August Goals the same post as they feed off each other a little bit. There are two sorts of goals: the big, long-term goals and the short, attainable goals. These are good for any step in life and essential for knowing what you want. Not every writer wants to be published or make a career out of their writing.

My long-term goals are absolutely to make a career out of my writing. I want to be able to help put my kids through college and retired to Salem (or some other pretty ocean community but the ocean is key here). My goal is to make a career out of it, my wish is to be award winning and well reviewed. I consider goals to be things that I can control and wishes to be things I can’t really control at all. I know what I want to accomplish with my writing so I can set my short-term and annual goals to reflect that. If I didn’t know where I wanted to end up, setting small goals would be a lot more like spitting in the wind. Goals should be measurable, attainable, and, to some extent, controllable. A lot of people mistake wishes for goals. I have a very long list of life wishes to go along with my very short list of life goals.

Short-term goals are easier. Writing so many stories in a month, losing so much weight in a month, finishing so many poems in a month or a year. With the right spreadsheet, they’re super easy to track also. I sometimes have a hard time holding myself accountable to my goals but I’ve gotten a lot better at it this year. In some ways, I think my health issues have made me really look at what I want to accomplish in my life and really start working at it. Perhaps it really was a bit of the kick in the ass that I needed.

I didn’t have much in the way of goals last month because I needed to get Christmas in Bear Ridge finished, which I did. I also got it accepted and contracted and it should be coming out this winter from Boroughs Publishing Group! I missed 7 days of writing one of which was a health day as I could not type much yesterday, I had the best writing day I’ve had in years the day before that though clocking a massive 6804 words on the day, and I had a total of 24897 words which was a few thousand better than June. I’m back to working on Hunter’s Hell and I got a new idea that I’m going to tackle maybe for Nanowrimo this year. I sent out four submissions, including Bear Ridge and two queries, got one rejection, one acceptance, made 4 art pieces, made 4 sales over at my revamped Etsy shop (now: The Crow and Dragon) and put up a few new things with more to come. It’s been a really good month. I didn’t lose any weight but I think we might finally be getting back to human functionality. Again, it’s been a really good month for writing.

I peopled a lot at the beginning of the month for my father-in-law’s birthday and got to see a lot of people we rarely see which was nice. But I lost my kitty-baby a few days after. It’s weird not to have my Cas perched on the windowsill when I’m doing dishes or looking at me like I’m a lunatic when I have my kitty-ear headphones on. My dad‘s birthday was yesterday, too. He would have been 70. It’s been a much less good month for the personal side of things.

In August, I’d love to double that word count but I don’t see that happening until the kids get back to school so I’m going to put the goal at 30,000 words, 6 submissions, and 6 art pieces. I know that’s doable.

What are your goals? When you think about what you want to do with your writing, where you want to go with it, where do you see yourself in ten years? Twenty? How do you get from where you are now to where you want to be? Roads are always a little easier with a map, aren’t they?

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Writing Wednesday: Edits, Cuts, and Overused Words

Today I want to talk about the edits that get done before you even think about submissions or queries. I can’t say what process will work for you, only what works for me, so long as I actually remember to do it (silly old brain).

Imagine you’ve got a finished book, some 95,000 words of your soul, several months of your life in one tiny little space. Now it’s time to make it beautiful. There’s every chance that it’s just naturally beautiful but, I imagine it, like me, might need a little makeup to get there.

I tend to write the way I would speak if doing so didn’t make me nervous like I’m telling you the story. This works for me as far as the flow and the pacing but there are downsides. There are words I overuse in my daily speaking, daily writing, and just overall. See, that was one right there. That just there. When I’m going about my process correctly, I go into my writing program (at present I’m using Word but it was the same when I used Open Office and RoughDraft) and find all the instances of the words Just, Very, Almost, So and Apparently. Once I’ve gotten rid of 95% of those, I can move to the next step. To give you some idea, just recently, I had a project of just under 50000 words in which there were 277 instances of Just and 242 instances of Very. There are now 12 and 8 respectively.  This particular project only had 2 instances of Apparently. I was so proud.

After my overused words are corrected, I do double check my passive voice. It is useful and sometimes necessary to use the passive voice but in a lot of instances, there are better ways of saying what you’re wanting to say.

My last step, when all of that is done, unless I’m really trying to make a specific word count, is to cut out about 10% of the final word count. There is an old adage about killing your darlings that fits well here. If you write a phrase that is simply precious, it’s probably not necessary and just there because it’s pretty. That’s really not a good enough reason for words to be in a story. Neither is clever. If it doesn’t speak to the plot, setting, or character, stick it in a poem instead. That’s what I do with them anyway. My goal is to tell a good story in a clean, relatable and understandable way. This is how that happens for me. How it works for you, what you’re actually after in your final product, you’ll figure out as you go. Most people find their process by trial and error and a picking up bits and pieces of advice from other writers. We are all of us decorator crabs picking up a bit of this and a bit of that until it works.

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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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