Flashing, Star-Dusted Sirens, and the Return of the Novel Revisions

Wow, over a month since my last post. I’ve been more swamped with real life than I thought! While I could definitely use a ton more spare hours in my day, shiny writing-related things have still been afoot amid the craziness:

Shiny #1: Flashing! My story “The Swan Maiden” is now out in the current issue of Flash Fiction Online—the first issue put out under the leadership of FFO’s shiny new publisher, Anna Yeatts.

Shiny #2: More flashing! If you’re a Daily Science Fiction subscriber, my flash story “The Perfect Coordinates to Raise a Child” will be showing up in your inbox tomorrow (October 8). And if you’re not a Daily Science Fiction subscriber, the story will be available on their website a week later. Or you could, you know, subscribe.  Because it’s free. And awesome.

Shiny #3: I haz writing group, let me show you it. A few months ago, some other fine folks and I started The Star-Dusted Sirens, and now we have a blog where we shall babble about shiny writing-related things! We’re also on Twitter @StarDustSirens. Please check us out if you have a chance, if only to see the pretty logo that Katana Leigh created for us. Or you can take part in fellow Siren Naima Johnson’s contest to rewrite the first paragraph of Twilight.

Shiny #4: And last but not least, I’ve finally gotten back to revisions on My Big Fat Epic Fantasy Novel! They’re very slow going thanks to that pesky school thing I’ve got going on, but I’ll take whatever forward progress I can manage at this point.
#SFWApro

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Don’t leave me, summer!

One more week of freedom before my fall semester starts. My brain is finally emerging from its state of denial over that fact. But, to look on the shiny side of the crazy busyness that fall will bring, this will be my final year of grad school. Two more semesters and I’m done, baby!

This summer was strong with the shiny side of the Force, so I’m going to miss it. Two stories that I had lots of fun writing (“The Girl Who Welcomed Death to Svalgearyen” and “Memories of Mirrored Worlds”) were published. There was traveling awesomeness—France in July, several jaunts to the shore in August. When not gallivanting about on vacation, I took full advantage of my summer break from school and choir rehearsals to tackle lots of personal projects I had put off during the school year.

And there was writing time. Lots and lots of glorious writing time.

I went into this summer with a writing goal: there were several short stories I wanted to get revised and sent out, and once I did that, I could finally go back to the long-neglected novel revisions I’ve kept threatening to one day resume. It is with a proud wielding of the productivity stick that I declare that goal met. The short stories in question have all been prettied up and submitted, and last week, I blew the dust off the novel revisions.

And to add to the summer shininess, I can announce another sale! NewMyths.com (who previously published my story “The Cycle of the Sun”) has accepted “The Perfect Instrument” for their March 2014 issue. “The Perfect Instrument” had originally sold to an anthology, but the project fell through before publication, so I’m happy the story has managed to find a new home.

The Next Big Thing: My Contribution to Blog Hopping Fun

The obligatory intro text:

There are the authors everyone has heard about: George R. R. Martin, Stephen King. But what about all those books written by people you’ve never heard of? Some of them are treasures just waiting to be found, and that’s what this blog hop is all about: the books you might not have heard about, the authors you might end up loving.

This blog hop is like a game of tag. One author posts and then tags other authors who link back to their website the next week and tag new authors. If you follow the blog hop long enough, you’re bound to find some writers you’ll love! Maybe you’ll even discover a book that ends up being the next big thing.

The Taggening, Part I:

I was tagged by Brent Smith, who is a 2012 graduate of the Odyssey Writing Workshop. Brent and I met this past summer at the annual shindig held at the end of Odyssey where the graduating class and old fogey alumni like myself get to hang out. Odfellows are made of awesome, so please do hop over to Brent’s blog to learn more about him and his writing: http://fossilist.wordpress.com.

The Q&A:

1. What is the working title of your current project?

The novel that I’ve been in an on-again, off-again revising relationship with is currently called Future’s Gambit. I’m not happy with the title, though, so I usually refer to it as My Big Fat Epic Fantasy Novel. Once upon a time it was called Prophecy’s Sons, but then I decided it would be a much better story without the prophecy, so there went that.

And then there are all of those shiny little short story projects clamoring for my attention. I have a few flash-length first drafts that I plan to revise in the coming weeks. I wrote them for a contest over at Codex Writers’ Forum where our entries remain anonymous until the end, which means I can’t reveal their titles without giving myself away. So if you really want to know what the titles are, ask me again in two weeks when the contest is over.

2. Where do your ideas come from?

The better question would be, where don’t I get ideas from? The little buggers are everywhere. I pretty much spend my life looking around and asking myself, “Is there a story in that?” Sometimes there isn’t. Sometimes there is, but it’s a sucky story that no one wants to read. But often, there’s something cool there worth exploring.

3. What genre do you write?

Most of my work falls under the fantasy, horror, and science fiction umbrella, but I write the occasional mainstream piece too, usually of the quirky variety. I write more fantasy than anything, but even within that genre, there’s a whole mess of sub-genres that I’ve tackled—epic fantasy, contemporary fantasy, steampunk, humor, alternate history, dark fantasy, magical realism, etc. At the end of the day, I just want to tell a good story, genre be damned.

4. Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition of your novel?

This is the really sad part about my on-again, off-again relationship with my novel-in-progress: I finished the first version of it back in 2005, which means some of the actors I first pictured as the characters are now too old to play them. Whether reading or writing, the cast in my head tends to have a direct correlation to whatever TV shows I’m watching at the time. So in my head, a movie version of my novel would bring together actors from Angel, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Battlestar Galactica, and Farscape.

5. What would you do with your spare time if you weren’t writing?

Theater. I used to perform in community theater productions, but I haven’t done a show in about eight years now. Finding the time and energy for both that and writing just wasn’t happening.

6. Will your work be self-published or traditionally published?

I prefer the traditional route. Self-publishing involves a level of self-marketing that I just don’t have the time or emotional energy to invest in. Not that there isn’t any self-promotion involved when you’re publishing the traditional route, but I think you have to work twice as hard when you don’t have an established publisher putting their weight (and money) behind your work. I’m an introvert who constantly has too much going on as it is, so my self-promotional energy needs to be carefully rationed.

7. How long does it take you to write a story?

For short stories, anywhere from a couple of hours to a month. It all depends on the scope of the story, what else is going on in my life (trying to write while in grad school has been a challenge), and whether it’s one of those stories that just flows onto the page or one that I have to pull kicking and screaming out of my brain.

For my novel, it’s taken too damn long. First, I wasted the better part of my 20s constantly rewriting the first two chapters without moving forward. Once I finally got serious about writing and started doing it regularly, it took me a year of writing during my lunch break to finish the first draft. After that, I spent a few months getting feedback and revising. I queried agents next, failed to land one. Then I attended the Odyssey Writing Workshop in 2007, saw all of the flaws in my writing, and realized why I had failed in the agent search. Cue brilliant epiphany on how to revise the novel! Unfortunately, I’ve only been revising in fits and starts since then due to divided loyalties—I’m excited about the novel, but after finishing the first draft, I discovered just how much I love writing short stories too.

8. Whose work would you compare yours to within your genre?

I’m such a horrible judge of my own work that I honestly have no clue. About the best I can offer is that I’ve gotten several comments on my novel that say it has a George R.R. Martin vibe to it, though thankfully not in a derivative way.

9. Who or what inspired you to write your novel?

When I was in high school, I wrote a novella that I of course thought was brilliant. Several years later when I was in college, I pulled out the novella and was horrified at how derivative it was. Among the numerous epic fantasy clichés and one-dimensional characters, there was your stereotypical white-bearded wizard. I was sick of white-bearded wizards and decided I needed a different one. While mulling that over, I sat down to watch Deep Space Nine. Epiphany! My wizard would look like Captain Sisko and be just as badass. As soon as theDS9 episode was over, I started writing a scene with this new wizard, at which point my years of constantly rewriting the first two chapters of my novel officially began.

10. When and where do you do your best writing?

I can write just about anywhere, any time. The less distractions, the better, but sometimes I don’t have much of a choice. Right now most of my writing gets done on my train ride to and from Ye Olde Day Job.

The Taggening, Part II

Here are the writerly types I’m tagging to continue the blog hop. Alphabetical order is boring, so I’m going to tag them in order of how long I’ve known them:

Rebecca Roland: Becky was one of my awesome-sauce classmates at Odyssey. She’s also a fellow member of the Codex Writers’ Group, as well as a fellow wine and chocolate addict. Her first novel, Shards of History, was published by World Weaver Press last year and grew out of a story I had the pleasure of critiquing at Odyssey. She has also had short fiction published in Uncle John’s Flush Fiction and Every Day Fiction.

Shveta Thakrar: Shveta and I have been through two writing groups together—a Philly-based spec fic group where we met, and then what we dubbed the Awesome Ladies of Awesomeness. Shveta writes Indian-flavored fantasy that very often makes me hungry, so it’s a good thing we live close enough to go out for Indian food on occasion. She recently finished Sipping the Moon, a YA novel set in Philadelphia and featuring Indian fey, and has had short stories in PodCastleDemeter’s Spicebox, and Steam-Powered 2: More Lesbian Steampunk Stories.

K.A. Magrowski: Krista has been one of my fellow Awesome Ladies of Awesomeness critiquing partners and often incites me to mock Giorgio Tsoukalos’s hair. Like me, Krista is determined to achieve novel-selling success before the zombie apocalypse arrives; unlike me, she has actually finished her novel, a ghostly YA tale called Small Town Ghosts. Her short fiction has appeared in Dreams of Decadence and Tall Tales and Short Stories from South Jersey.

Full brain is full!

I’m currently trying to readjust to reality after a couple weeks away—first for a week of writerly workshoppiness at TNEO, and then for a week of vacationy goodness down the shore. My brain’s a little scattered, so bear with me as I share the writerly randomness that has occurred during my absence:

* First, story news! My flash piece “The Little Things,” which was published in Every Day Fiction last month, will be available as a podcast (read by Izzy David) on August 13.

* While at TNEO, I finished a shiny new short story called “Memories of Mirrored Worlds” and sent it off into the world. Fly, little story! Fly!

* Speaking of TNEO, it was once again fun and full of awesome people. Lots of great feedback and brainstorming and bouncing around of ideas. Not to mention a highly hysterical evening of people trying to read bad sex scenes without laughing.

* Among my revelations at TNEO this year: I need to stop procrastinating and just revise My Big Fat Epic Fantasy Novel already. I’ve spent the last couple years stopping and starting and hemming and hawing and it’s all rather silly at this point. Brainstorming is all well and good, but there comes a point when the only way to figure out what works is to just finish the damn thing.

* BUT! Before I go back to the novel, I will revise a few short stories that are in need of attention. Revisions on one of those began this morning and will continue after I finish with this post. Which means now.

On epic fantasy and bodily functions

Dear Potential Future Readers:

So I’m working on this Big Fat Epic Fantasy Novel. If it ever sees the light of publishing day, then you, dear epic fantasy fan, will possibly read it. And several of you are going to raise certain complaints. I would like to preemptively address one of them now:

No, it’s not that my female characters never menstruate. It’s just that their menstrual cycle is not relevant to the story*. And while you may not see my characters answering the call of nature, it’s not that they don’t have to. They urinate. They have bowel movements. Again, it’s just that those things generally don’t contribute to the advancement of the story*, and so I don’t include them.

Trust me, dear reader, if I ever find that a depiction of defecation, urination, or menstruation would serve to advance plot or character, enhance my setting, or otherwise serve the story, I will not hesitate to describe it. In fact, such things have showed up in my short fiction when relevant. But as far My Big Fat Epic Fantasy Novel goes, please just assume that my characters take care of their business off-page. I mean, when your first draft clocks in at 118,000 words, the poo really has to earn its place on the page.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go use the bathroom.

Love,
Me

*To clarify, when I talk about relevance to the story or advancement of story, I’m not talking about plot alone. If a woman’s menstruation or the way a person goes to the bathroom tells me something about a character’s personality or the world or the setting, then I consider that relevant, something that advances the story by adding to my understanding of the world and the characters. But showing someone going to the bathroom simply to establish that they sometimes have to go to the bathroom, not so much.

The State of the Barb

I know I keep threatening to return to a regular blogging routine, but life seems intent on not letting that happen. Nevertheless, here’s the state of me:

* School is keeping me busy, but I’m enjoying it a lot more than I ever did grant writing. This whole getting my MLIS thing? Good damn decision, I think.

* Speaking of life keeping me busy, there will be a distinct lack of con attendance on my part for the rest of the year. I had been hoping to attend Sirens and Capclave this month, but there’s just too much else going on for me to swing either one. And I’d normally do Philcon in November since it’s practically right in my backyard, but I’ll be off in Austin that weekend.

* Writing progress! Well, at least there was progress until a damn cold sidelined me yesterday (it’s hard to focus or stare at a computer screen for too long when it feels like you have a head full of gauze-wrapped bricks). But before then, I got my short story “The Girl Who Welcomed Death to Svalgearyen” revised and sent out the door, and now I’m working on revisions for “Demon Dreams.” And when that’s done, I think I’ll dive back into the never-ending My Big Fat Epic Fantasy Novel revisions.

* And last but certainly not least: I can haz zombie art? The awesome-looking title spread (with art by Dave Senecal) for my story in issue 25 of Black Static, which should be coming out this month:

What I Didn’t Blog About On My Summer Vacation

*taps the blog mic*

Is this thing on?

So, yeah, I’ve been rubbish about posting lately. Life has been consumed by a big busy combo of workshopping craziness, vacationing, trying to finish things up at Ye Olde Day Job before my last day (two more weeks!), and preparing for that whole wacky grad school thing I’ll be starting in September. There has been precious little time for writing, which makes me cranky.

As for the aforementioned workshopping craziness, that would be TNEO (aka The Never-Ending Odyssey), which I attended last month, and it was all manner of awesome. Awesome people, awesome feedback, and awesome moments of writing-related light bulbs going off. Like three-act structure. For some reason, I always had the hardest time getting a firm grasp on three-act structure, but this time it finally clicked and I could finally see where I had (unknowingly) used it in some of my stuff.

I had two short stories and a novel chapter critiqued at TNEO this year, and I’m totally stoked to get the revision work underway on them. It’s easy to walk out of critique sessions overwhelmed by feedback overload, especially when you get conflicting opinions. But this year, there was so much consensus as to what was and wasn’t working in my submissions and so much helpful brainstorming that I feel like I know exactly what I need to do and won’t be bogged down trying to sort through conflicting reactions.

One really helpful session we did at TNEO was a plot breakout technique. Each person presented a plot they wanted help with, after which we would do about a half an hour’s worth of brainstorming that involved lots of adding and rearranging and deleting of various plot elements, done with index cards on a board. I was looking for ways to strengthen Act 2 (now that I know where Act 2 is!) of one of the major plot threads in My Big Fat Epic Fantasy Novel and got lots of great ideas, including more characters to kill (always a plus in my book). My collection of index cards ended up looking like this:

That big mess o’ cards down the middle would be Act 2, with Act 1 to the left and Act 3 to the right.

Now if only life would settle the hell down and let me get in some more writing time, I could make better use of all that crazy awesome brainstorming!